Netanyahu: Gaza tunnels show why Israel needs freedom of action in West Bank

"There is a real possibility of burrowing thousands of tunnels from the West Bank," PM says.

April 18, 2016 17:11
3 minute read.
West Bank protest

A Palestinian protester confronts a Border Police officer during an anti-settlement protest in the West Bank. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The types of terrorist tunnels the IDF uncovered and destroyed leading from Gaza into Israel do not exist in the West Bank because Israel is present there and can thwart their construction in real time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

Netanyahu, in a briefing to Israeli diplomatic reporters, said that when Israel receives any intelligence information about the possibility of burrowing tunnels from the West Bank, it can act at once. This is one of Israel’s considerations regarding any future agreement with the Palestinians, he said.

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The West Bank border is hundreds of kilometers, he noted, adding that there is a real possibility of thousands of tunnels burrowing into Israel. “For that reason, I demand freedom of action,” he said.

The uncovering and neutralization of the terrorist-attack tunnel from Gaza into Israel is a “pioneering achievement” and “global breakthrough,” the prime minister said, adding that the government has invested a “fortune” in the technology enabling the discovery and then destruction of the tunnels.

“This is a continuous effort that demands great determination, and to which we are committed,” he said.
IDF discovers Gaza tunnels

Netanyahu said Israel will respond forcefully to every effort to attack its citizens, whether by sea, air, land or underground. “I am certain Hamas understands this,” he said.

To the residents of the communities around Gaza, Netanyahu said the IDF was working “around the clock to ensure [their] security and daily routine.”

“A combination of the physical destruction of the tunnels, defensive elements that have been set up, deterrence and offensive capabilities – along with the strength of the public – enable us to defend our citizens and ensure the continual flowering of the Negev communities,” he said.

He added that the residents of these communities can be calm, and that Israel has created defense that does not exist anywhere else in the world.

Regarding the Palestinian track, Netanyahu – when asked why he doesn’t initiate something with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – said: “How many times do I have to invite him for talks? There is a certain conception toward Israel that blames it for everything no matter what,” he said. “In the Arab world they understand this is not right, and that Israel is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Netanyahu said “everyone understands” that any agreement will necessitate the Palestinian Authority recognizing Israel’s right to exist, abandoning the “right of return” and educating their children toward peace, and not a return to Jaffa and Acre.

“It is possible to open the negotiations, but impossible to start them because Abu Mazen talks about a willingness [to negotiate], but then runs away from them. Therefore, talk now of an initiative sounds rather hollow.”

Netanyahu said the real breakthrough right now is in the relations that are developing between Israel and its neighbors.

“We are not doing this with pomp and circumstance, but I believe that through this type of regional connection it will also be possible to achieve progress on the Palestinian track. For more than 20 years, we have tried to do the opposite without any success.”

Netanyahu also came out strongly against a Gaza seaport, saying the port in Ashdod is capable of dealing with goods entering Gaza.

At the Ashdod port, it is possible to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, something that would be much more difficult to supervise if a port were opened in Gaza or an artificial island was created that would serve as a port.

“I will not enable the opening of a maritime artery to Gaza that will enable the smuggling of weapons for terrorism,” he said.

Netanyahu also related to the new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding being negotiated with the US about the level of military assistance to Israel, saying the process was continuing and that he hoped it would conclude during the presidency of Barack Obama.

Asked about whether he expected the US to veto efforts to pass a UN Security Council resolution on the Middle East, Netanyahu said that, in the past, Washington has not tried to impose a solution form outside, and that Obama himself has spoken out against that.

“I hope this will also be the approach in the years and months to come,” he said.

Netanyahu, who was asked about a wide variety of issues, was questioned about the recent visit by Heinz-Christian Strache, from Austria’s far-right Freedom Party. Netanyahu said he did not know about the visit beforehand, and is “looking into the issue.”

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