As the government weighed calls for a cease-fire one week into Operation Pillar of Defense, Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter said Tuesday that a ground operation was the way to defeat Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“You can beat terror only with ground troops,” Dichter said in Ashkelon, addressing a delegation of lay and professional leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America who were on a solidarity mission to southern communities.
“[There’s] no way to beat terrorists just by air strikes,” he continued. “You know it very well by experience in the United States. We know it very well from our experience.”
The IAF has struck 1,450 targets in Gaza since the operation started Wednesday with the targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, but a ground operation is inevitable at some point, Dichter said, to stop the incessant rockets.
Gazans fired 170 rockets into the country throughout the day Tuesday.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be today or a few months or years, [but] the Gaza Strip will have to be penetrated by Israel in order to destroy the military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip,” said the home front defense minister, who grew up in Ashkelon and has run an office out of rocket-battered Sderot for the past three days.
“We have the power to do it,” he continued.
“I think we have the people who understand it should be done. The timing is under negotiation.”
Soldiers, including reservists, are on the border with Gaza, he said, “waiting to get the green light, [and then] they are moving.”
A confrontation with Hamas also means a confrontation with Iran, a supplier of weaponry to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose government serves the military interests of Iran, Dichter said.
“We have the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and we have the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is the Palestinian name for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian land,” he said.
This is a reality Israel cannot tolerate, he continued, especially in light of a region in turmoil. He cited the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and the impending fall of Syria’s Bashar Assad.
“I think when we calculate our steps toward the terrorists from the Gaza Strip, we have to understand it’s a different calculation compared to what we could do just a year ago,” he said, referring, among other things, to the Iron Dome’s rocket defense capability.
“We now have Egypt [to contend with], and... Hamas in the Gaza Strip has to be taken as a proxy of Egypt.”
Speaking of the rising influence of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East, including in Morocco, where the “moderate” Islamist Justice and Development party won the majority vote in last year’s election, he said these victories should not be taken lightly.
“There’s no Muslim Brotherhood- lite,” he said.
Still, Dichter softened his tone, saying he did not know how this particular operation would be ended, nor whether cease-fire negotiations would be successful at ending rocket fire.
“Even if you have all your troops all along the Gaza Strip, you don’t have to use [them] if you can reach the goal in a different way,” he said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, found himself in the ironic position of attacking Dichter – who was in Kadima until three months ago – from the Left.
He said it was too late for the current government to authorize a Gaza ground offensive.
“A government cannot make such a decision two months before an election,” Liberman said. “This is a dramatic move, which we did not make for four years. There is no point in it happening two months before an election.
If there is no choice, such a decision must be left for the next government.”
The leaders of Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union slammed the proposed cease-fire. Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett appealed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to continue the operation, warning that ending it now without vanquishing Hamas would result in more rocket fire, victims and destruction.
“Accepting the deal would make Israelis feel betrayed by the Netanyahu-Liberman government,” new National Union leader Uri Ariel said.
“The ramifications of a shameful surrender would be felt for years to come by Israelis who will suffer from the increased motivation of our external and internal enemies.”
Likud MK Carmel Shama- Hacohen wrote on Facebook that “what is on the table is not a cease-fire but a delay of fire to a time more convenient for Hamas.”
Shama-Hacohen called to continue the operation and delay Sunday’s Likud primary.
Three Likud officials whom Netanyahu appointed to determine how to handle the impact of the operation on the primary are expected to report back to him Wednesday or Thursday.
Sources close to Netanyahu said it was becoming increasingly likely that the primary would take place as scheduled on Sunday. •