With the life-disrupting rocket fire on the South in its fourth day, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke for the first time Monday about expanding Israel’s military operations inside the Gaza Strip.
“The IDF is continuing to strongly and decisively attack the terrorists in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said in carefully measured words to the Likud faction in the Knesset. “The IDF is ready to expand its operations and continue them as necessary.”
Government officials noted that while some defense officials and politicians had threatened to expand the operations – which began Friday with the killing of the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, Zuhair Qaisi – this was the first time Netanyahu publicly spoke about the possibility.
“We will strike at whoever intends to harm our citizens,” he said. Netanyahu said the “winning combination” in this particular battle was “crushing offensive capabilities” – meaning the capability of the IDF to hit the terrorists “wherever they are” – coupled with “important defensive measures,” such as the Iron Dome anti-rocket system and “the resilience of the citizens in the South” who are living under a constant missile threat.
Netanyahu also met in the Knesset with visiting Italian Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola and said that the current rocket barrage on the South hammered home the dangers that would exist were Iran to gain nuclear capability, since the organizations firing the rockets from Gaza were trained and funded by Iran.
Israel’s position is that not only is there a danger of nuclear material finding its way into the hands of terrorist organizations if Iran gains nuclear capabilities, but that the organizations – with a nuclear Iran behind them – would be emboldened to act.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, said the rocket fire meant the Palestinians could give up their hopes of any territorial link between Gaza and the West Bank.
Speaking at a ceremony marking 20 years since the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people, Liberman said the continuing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which has gone on intermittently not only for a few days but for the last 10 years, had buried the idea of a “safe passage” from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank.
“As long as Hamas is in control of the Gaza Strip, there is no chance that we will agree to a safe passage, or unsafe passage, or elevated passage, or underground passage or any passage whatsoever,” he said. “The Palestinians have condemned themselves to a separation right now that looks like it will continue for generations.”
The idea of a link between Gaza and the West Bank was first mentioned in the Gaza-Jericho Agreement of 1994, when a “safe passage” between the two areas was discussed, and later during the Taba negotiations in January 2001, when one of the few things the sides agreed upon was a passage from the north of Gaza to the Hebron region.
Liberman’s concern is that both terrorists and the types of rockets and missiles being fired on Israel today from Gaza could be transported to Judea and Samaria via any kind of Gaza-West Bank link.
He added that just as Iran, via Hezbollah, was responsible for the Buenos Aires bombing in 1992 and the bombing two years later of the Jewish center in the Argentinean capital, Iran is responsible for today’s terror as well.
The foreign minister said Iran was the “oxygen” for all terrorist organizations in Gaza that were firing on Israel and that without that “oxygen,” their ability to survive would be in doubt.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at a UN Security Council meeting on changes in the Middle East, said he was “gravely concerned” by the latest escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza. Saying that civilians were once again paying a terrible price, he termed the rocket attacks out of Gaza “unacceptable,” and said they “must stop immediately.” He also called on Israel to exercise “maximum restraint.”
Egypt’s parliament on Monday demanded that the government expel the Israeli ambassador and recall Cairo’s envoy from Tel Aviv to protest Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported.
The assembly also called for an immediate end to natural gas exports to Israel.
Parliament Speaker Mohamed Saad el-Katatni asked a parliamentary committee to “follow the government’s implementation of parliament’s demands,” MENA reported.
Bloomberg contributed to this report.