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Foreign leaders warn against IDF incursion
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
18/11/2012
In spite of reservations of international community, PM says IDF prepared for expansion of Operation Pillar of Defense.
 
Israel continued on Sunday to make preparations to send ground forces into Gaza, despite warnings that the international community might not support such a move.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for the third night in a row.

In the morning, Netanyahu told the cabinet at its weekly meeting, “The IDF has attacked over 1,000 terrorist targets [since Wednesday afternoon] in the Gaza Strip and it is continuing its operations as we speak. The IDF is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Israel against a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip, in an interview with Sky News.

“The prime minister [David Cameron] and I have both stressed to our Israeli counterparts, that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international sympathy,” Hague said. “It is much more difficult to restrict and avoid civilians casualties during a ground invasion.”

Such a move would prolong the conflict and impact already existing tensions in the region, he added.

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There is the situation in Syria and rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear program, he said. “It is important to see the larger strategic context of this.”

Britain, Hague said, had supported efforts toward a cease-fire that so far had not been successful.

“We would like to see an agreed cease-fire with an essential component of which is an end to those rocket attacks,” Hague said.

“Hamas bears principal responsibility for starting all of this,” he said.

But he said his country had called on both sides to de-escalate the situation, avoid civilian casualties and abide by international law.

US President Barack Obama, who has strongly supported Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense, continued to do so while traveling in Asia on Sunday, but said he would prefer not to see a ground operation.

“We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians,” Obama said. “And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Obama said he had repeated this messages to regional parties, who, together with the US, were looking to deescalate the situation.

Still, he cautioned, it was preferable to find a way to stop the rockets without the “ramping-up of military activity in Gaza.

“That’s not just preferable for the people of Gaza, it’s also preferable for Israelis — because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they are much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded,” Obama said.

Speaking to the foreign press in Jerusalem, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Netanyahu had asked world leaders, “What would you do in a situation where your citizens were subject to incessant rocket fire.”

Ya’alon added, “We expect our allies to support us [as we] use all the tools available to defend our people.”

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu told the government that IDF activity in Gaza had significantly harmed Hamas’s ability to fire rockets against Israel.

The IDF’s aerial missions had levied a heavy toll on Hamas and other terrorists organizations in Gaza, he said.

He briefed the cabinet on conversations he had over the weekend with world leaders on Gaza.

“I appreciate their understanding that Israel has a right to defend itself,” Netanyahu said.

In those conversations, he explained, he emphasized that Israel was doing everything it could to avoid harming Gaza civilians.

At the same time, he said, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza were doing their utmost to hit Israeli civilians.

“We are a responsible government that is obligated, above all, to the security of its citizens, and we are acting in accordance with this obligation,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said he has spoken over the weekend with Obama and thanked him as well for understanding this point.

Netanyahu also thanked Obama for America’s contribution to the Iron Dome system that has protected Israeli citizens from rocket attacks.

Netanyahu praised the “restraint, determination and the resilience of Israeli citizens on the home front.”

He added that he appreciated the rapid mobilization of the reserve forces.

Separately, the cabinet approved NIS 7.6 million to protect daycare centers for young children in communities within 7 kilometers of the Gaza Strip.

Barak commented on the possibility of expanding the Gaza operation, speaking during a visit to the Iron Dome battery placed in the Dan region.

The IDF was “primed and ready to do whatever it takes to remove the [rockets] threat, strength Israeli deterrence and hit Hamas and Islamic Jihad hard,” he said.

Barak said the IDF would not hesitate to send ground forces into Gaza if it were necessary, but that Israel was also prepared to stop the operation if Hamas stopped firing rockets at southern Israel.

While the prime minister did not publicly discuss a ground operation, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Israel Radio on Sunday morning that the cabinet was indeed discussing the pros and cons of such a move.

Sa’ar also revealed that negotiations toward achieving a cease-fire had not yet progressed to a point that would justify halting military operations in Gaza.

Accordingly, he said, the IDF would continue its current course of action.

Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau said that now was not the time for a cease-fire as the IDF had not yet achieved all of its objectives.

Landau said the army has a lot of work to do to destroy the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and prevent weapons smuggling.

If necessary, the IDF should launch a ground operation in Gaza to achieve these aims, Landau said.
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