Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called on the government to “go all the way” and “eradicate the Hamas regime in Gaza.”
In an interview with Channel 2 on Friday, Liberman laid out a more ambitious goal for Israel than that mentioned hours earlier by his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke of continuing the operation until “quiet was restored.”
Liberman, who has called on the government to reconquer Gaza in the past, said that the goal “was not to re-establish Jewish settlement there” but to remove the threat of Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns.
“After Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense, we can’t have a situation where we don’t finish the job because that will only lead to a countdown before the next operation,” the foreign minister told Channel 2.
Just before the Sabbath, Netanyahu held a news conference at the Kirya Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv, during which he pledged that Operation Protective Edge will continue until the quiet is restored.
Netanyahu, who took questions from reporters for the first time since the operation, would not reveal when or whether a ground operation inside Gaza would begin.
“We are weighing all possibilities, and are prepared for all possibilities,” he said, adding that everyone understands that he cannot give details of tactical decisions.
A calm Netanyahu said that the terror kingdom Hamas set up in Gaza – where there are not only thousands of rockets, but also well over a thousand tunnels – will not be allowed to be replicated in the West Bank.
“We need to understand one fact, we are living in a Middle East that is being taken over from radical Islam, leading to the collapse of a number of counties, and is knocking on our doors, both in the and the south.”
In addition to dealing with Hamas, he said, “I say we cannot allow a situation where we get Gaza in Judea and Samaria."
“Today I think that Israel's citizens understand why I say all the time, that there cannot be a situation in any agreement that we will give up security control from the Jordan River westward,” he said.
"I don't want to create another 20 Gazas in Judea and Samaria,” he added.
“Those who say that territory has no importance, look how much importance there is,' he said. “In a contiguous territory, you can build tunnels.”
If Israel would leave the West Bank completely, he said, there would be the possibility of thousands of tunnels burrowing into Israel. “There are 1,200 tunnels in the 14 kilometers between Egypt and Gaza,” the prime minister revealed, adding that Egypt has sealed most of them.
He said the tunnels illustrate that territory “has tremendous importance.”
Netanyahu said that the IAF has so far hit more than 1,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets, and that the “military blow” will continue until Israel is sure that that the quiet is restored.
Netanyahu did not spell out any conditions for a cease fire, or give any indication about whether a third party was now involved in trying to broker one.
The prime minister did not stray from the goal he set out for the operation from the very beginning: to restore quiet. He did not widen the goal to destroying Hamas or re-taking Gaza.
Netanyahu, who spoke overnight with US President Barack Obama, and has spoken over the last few days with numerous world leaders, said that “no international pressure will prevent us from acting with all our strength against a terrorist organization that calls for our destruction.”
Netanyahu said that there is an understanding for Israel’s actions among the leaders, and that the slow and measured manner in which Israel entered the operation was due not only to operational considerations, but also to create an international atmosphere that would understand why Israel felt the need to hit Hamas, as it is doing.
“All the leaders understand our need to act,” he said. “I also asked them what they would do. Would they be willing to absorb a rocket barrage attacks on London, Washington, Paris and Moscow? Of course not.”
Regarding an exit strategy, Netanyahu said that he will finish the operation when the goals are achieved, and the primary goal is to restore the quiet to Israeli citizens.
Netanyahu also sent a warning to Hezbollah, saying that Israel would act aggressively against any others who will fire missiles on Israel. “I would not recommend anyone to test us,” he said.
Netanyahu was full of praise for the country for its “fortitude,” and for Iron Dome. He said that over the years his governments have spent billions of dollars in protecting the home front.