US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370.
(photo credit:REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
A day after American Jewish columnist Jeffrey Goldberg quoted President Barack Obama as saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not understand what is in Israel’s best interest, Netanyahu visited the Gaza border on Wednesday and essentially shot back, “Yes I do.”
During the visit to the headquarters of the IDF’s Gaza Division, Netanyahu was shown figures indicating that December was the quietest month in the South – in terms of rocket and terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip – in the past 12 years, since January 2001.
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“I think everyone understands that only Israel’s citizens are those who will be the ones to determine who faithfully represents Israel’s vital interests,” the prime minister said in his first direct response to Obama’s reported criticism.
Netanyahu said over the past four years he had withstood “enormous pressure,” including demands that Israel curb its pressure on Iran, withdraw to the pre- 1967 lines, divide Jerusalem and stop building in the eastern part of the capital.
“We fended off all those pressures, and I will continue to stand firm on Israel’s vital interests for the security of the citizens of Israel,” he declared.
Netanyahu, who was joined on his visit by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF brass, said he was “very impressed” by the advanced technological measures being deployed in the area, “and even more so by our young soldiers operating them here.”
The IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and other security forces were doing “very important work,” he said. “They are maintaining the quiet that has been kept since Operation Pillar of Defense.”
Netanyahu said that no one had any illusions, and that the quiet could be shattered at any time.
But, he added, the IDF was prepared for any scenario. “We will do everything necessary to defend Israel’s citizens here and everywhere else,” he said.
Barak attributed the calm in the area primarily to “the serious blow sustained by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations” in Gaza during November’s military operation.
Barak said that a secondary factor was “the positive influence of Egypt,” adding, however, that the foremost reason for the cease-fire having held up was the “exceptional work being carried out here by IDF battalions, the observational post system, the division,” and the new Sinai security fence.
The IDF “is prepared here with tools that are more and more advanced,” Barak said, adding that he had been shown “an amazing exhibition of field intelligence abilities.”
At the same time, “at any given moment, it goes back to the old things, to sticking to the objective, to the speedy orientation of commanders, to the responses of soldiers and commanders,” the defense minister said.
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