As Gazan rockets and missiles continued to hit Israel on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that if quiet in the region was not restored, the beefed-up IDF units amassed there will act “with power.”
“The security of our citizens comes before anything,” he said at a speech at the annual Fourth of July celebration at the US ambassador’s residence in Herzliya.
Together with his warnings to Hamas, Netanyahu – who arrived at the event directly from security deliberations in Tel Aviv that focused on the escalating violence in the South and the volatile situation in Jerusalem – was unequivocal in his condemnation of the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the east Jerusalem teen killed on Wednesday morning.
“The police investigation is ongoing,” he said. “We don’t know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime, whoever they may be.”
Referring to the bitter mood in the country since the bodies of Eyal Yifrah, Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer were discovered on Monday, Netanyahu said that “murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism – they have no place in our democracy.”
Those democratic values differentiate Israel from its neighbors, and united Israel with the US , he said.
The secret to the special US-Israel relationship can be summarized in four words: “shared values, common interests,” the prime minister said.
“In both our lands, the rights of the individual are sacred, and the foremost right – without which the others cannot exist – is the right to live. And that is why we pursued the murders of Gil-Ad, Eyal and Naftali – they denied them that basic right in such a cruel way,” he said.
Netanyahu issued a public call to the country to be restrained in both actions and words.
“Our hearts are hurting, and our blood is boiling, but we need to remember that we are first and foremost human beings, we are the citizens of a law-abiding country. We take decisions responsibly, calmly and with prudence,“ he said.
Regarding the situation in the South, Netanyahu said that Israel was prepared for two possibilities.
The first was that the rocket fire on Israel would stop, and as a result Israel’s counter-attacks would stop. The second possibility was that the fire continued, in which cases the IDF – which on Thursday reinforced its presence near the border with the Gaza Strip – would act with full strength.
Israel was fighting with determination against Hamas, and that organization has paid a heavy price over the past three weeks in the West Bank, with hundreds of activists arrested, and almost all its institution closed, the prime minister said. In Gaza, the IDF has hit “dozens” of targets in recent days, he said.
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro opened the formal program at the Fourth of July event with a moment of silence in memory of the three murdered Israeli youths, and the traditional fireworks display at the end of the program was canceled out of respect for the mourning families.
Shapiro said that the kidnapping and murders shook “all people of conscience,” adding that the US “stands with the people of Israel in the time of mourning, and has offered all support in finding the perpetrators of this senseless act.”
He also said the US sends its condolences to the family of Abu Khdeir, “whose murder shakes us all.”
The ambassador thanked Netanyahu and his government for its “swift and clear condemnation of this terrible act.” At this volatile time it was necessary to “resist the urge to channel our pain and our anguish into violence and retribution, and the American people stand with those who stand for peace in this time of mourning and reflection,” he said.
President Shimon Peres, attending his last Fourth of July ceremony as president, said the friendship for Israel he encountered on his recent visit to the US “exceeded all my imagination.”
After noting that he has met 10 sitting US presidents, going back to John F. Kennedy, he said that President Barack Obama should be judged by facts, and “in fact he is one of the greatest friends Israel has ever had, a man who answered all our defensive calls.”