As the sixth day of Operation Protective Edge came to a close Sunday evening, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave no indication of whether the campaign was nearing its end or whether Israel is on the verge of a ground operation.
The security cabinet met Sunday evening, as it has on an almost daily basis since the campaign began, with the options on the table ranging from sending IDF troops into Gaza to working with a third party – such as the US, Egypt, Qatar, or Turkey – to broker a cease-fire, to a unilateral cease-fire to gauge how Hamas reacts.
Earlier in the day, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the operation “could yet take a long time.”
Netanyahu spoke by phone Sunday with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who discussed the issue with his colleagues from Britain, France and Germany on the sidelines of talks with Iran in Vienna.
Kerry, according to the State Department, said the US is growing “concerned about escalating tensions on the ground” in Gaza.
“He described his engagement with leaders in the region to help to stop the rocket fire so calm can be restored and civilian casualties prevented, and underscored the United States’ readiness to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement,” one senior State Department official said.
Kerry also restated the Obama administration’s condemnation of rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel’s citizens and repeated American support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
While diplomatic officials were not saying what Israel’s conditions are for a ceasefire, they have said over the last few days that the type of agreement that would lead to quiet for only a year or two – such as the agreement that led to the cease-fire in Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 – would not be acceptable.
On Monday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives in the region for talks in Amman, followed by talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah the next day.
“Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel have led to a spiral of violence that it seems impossible to stop,” he said. “Many civilians on both sides are living in fear of the next attack. It is hard to see the images of the many civilian victims.”
He said that he is coming to the region because it is important to establish contact with the decision-makers.
“Only through dialogue will it be possible to find a way to calm things down,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Vienna French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that securing a cease-fire is an “absolute priority” for Paris.
“There are large numbers of victims in Gaza and rockets have been fired at Israel, and with an absolutely disastrous escalation,” Fabius said.
“France – like the United Nations Security Council – asks for a return to the agreement of 2012.”
He declined to assign culpability when pressed by journalists.
The world’s top diplomats gathered in Austria to determine whether a deal with Iran over its nuclear program is possible to forge in the next week. The deadline for the talks is July 20.
One senior US official told journalists on Saturday evening that the Obama administration considers Iran partially at fault in the Gaza crisis – and that Kerry would make that clear to his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, in a rare one-on-one meeting planned for Sunday afternoon.
The two men have met only once before since rapprochement began between the two nations last September.
“Iran has a long-standing record of supplying weapons, rockets, to various terror groups in Gaza, including Hamas,” the US official said.
“Those rockets are being used to fire at civilian areas, and Iran has a responsibility to cease and desist from continuing to supply weapons in this conflict.”
Canada, meanwhile, was unequivocal in its support of Israel, with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying “the indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel are terrorist acts, for which there is no justification. It is evident that Hamas is deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region.”
Harper said that “failure by the international community to condemn these reprehensible actions would encourage these terrorists to continue their appalling actions. Canada calls on its allies and partners to recognize that these terrorist acts are unacceptable and that solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.”
Netanyahu, in interviews with CBS and Fox News on Sunday, gave no indication of where the military operation is headed, other than saying that the goals of the operation are to “achieve sustainable quiet and security for our people, and we’re doing that by degrading Hamas and other terror capabilities. I’m not going to say right now how and when that goal will be achieved, whether by diplomatic and military means, but that goal has to be achieved.”
As television screens around the world were increasingly showing the devastation and casualties in Gaza, Netanyahu stressed that the difference between Israel and Hamas is that “we’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.
So naturally they’re responsible for all the civilian deaths that occur accidentally.
We’re sorry for any accidental civilian death, but it’s Hamas that bears complete responsibility for such civilian casualties.”
Netanyahu referred to the rockets being indiscriminately fired on Israel as, with the exception of chemical or nuclear weapons, “the ultimate terror weapon” against which “any country would act to defend itself.”
In his interview on Fox, Netanyahu thanked “the American people, President Obama and the US Congress” for helping Israel fund the Iron Dome, which he called an “incredible” missile defense system which is a “historic development in the history of defensive warfare.”