At the end of a trying day of battle in which Israel lost 13 soldiers, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the nation Sunday evening, vowing that the military campaign would continue until quiet is restored and the terrorist organizations in Gaza suffer a resounding blow.
“From our people's history we learn a simple truth,” Netanyahu said, using a well-known phrase attributed to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. “The eternal people is not afraid of a long road.”
During his statement and press conference in Tel Aviv alongside Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Netanyahu's words were meant to comfort the nation pained by the day's losses -- the worst one day toll since the 2006 Second Lebanon War -- as well as to explain what those losses were meant to achieve.
“There is not a more just war than the one in which your sons, our sons, heroically fell,” he said to the parents of the newly bereaved. “We will finish the job that they began, and we will restore the quiet to the south, the center, and to all parts of the country.”
Netanyahu's comments came just prior to another security cabinet meeting, and just after a conversation with US President Barack Obama – the second in three days – in which Obama condemned Hamas's attacks on Israel and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself.
Earlier in the day, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on numerous Sunday television news shows that Israel had the full right to act, even as he indicated – in a statement to one of his aides - that he was itching to return to the region to try and broker a cease-fire.
In an off the microphone comment captured on Fox News, Kerry sarcastically referred to Israel's military operation as “a hell of a pinpoint operation,” then adding to a staffer that “we need to get over there.”
On camera in various interviews, however, he fully supported Israeli actions, saying “We defend Israel’s right to do what it is doing in order to get at those tunnels.”
In an ABC interview Kerry said “Hamas has to understand you can’t just sit there and claim moral rectitude or the higher ground while you’re busy rocketing people and capturing people and digging tunnels to attack them. And this has to stop.”
Although Kerry voiced a desire to leave for the region immediately, no date for a visit has yet been given, meaning that intensive efforts to stop the operation are not immediately in the offing.
Netanyahu said that Israel did not opt for this battle, but now that it has been hoisted on it, it would continue “as long as is needed.”
Ya'alon, who also said the campaign would continue until the job was completed, said that in “two to three days” most of the terror tunnels will be destroyed.
Netanyahu has laid out destroying those tunnels as the reason for the ground incursion that began Thursday evening.
The Prime Minister said that the current operation is vital for the country's security. “Last night 's action revealed more tunnels, in addition to others that we already uncovered, some of which reached Israel.”
Netanyahu said that Hamas invested years of work and a large fortune with the goal of carrying out mass terrorist attacks and kidnappings. “We found handcuffs, sedating drugs. There is no question this is a strategic component for Hamas.”
The threat of the tunnels is not new, he said, and Israel has prevented attacks through tunnels in the past. But the current operation is much wider. “It is an operation with more risk, but it is vital. If these tunnels were not found, then the results would have been a lot worse.”
Netanyahu said that even though Israel was aware of the tunnels, it was still willing last Tuesday to agree to a cease-fire –without having physically destroyed them – because then the focus would have been to remove them through diplomatic means.
Despite the Palestinian civilian casualties, Netanyahu said that Israel's acceptance of three different cease fires since last Tuesday – all of which were violated by Hamas – gave Israeli credit in the international arena for the current operation.
“This is never a given,” he said.
Netanyahu said that Hamas built two strategic arms with which to hit Israel: the rockets and the tunnels. Iron Dome has neutralized the threat of the rockets, he said, while Israel now is in the process of neutralizing the tunnels.
The IDF has significantly damaged both those arms, he added.
Referring to Sunday's losses, Netanyahu said that “in every battle, in every campaign,there are difficult and complicated incidents,. So too in this one. But with that, the military action is moving forward as planned, and will be expanded as much as is needed until the quiet is restored to Israel.”
Israel is proud of its “heroic soldiers,” Netanyahu said. “With God's help, and with their help, we will succeed.”
Netanyahu said that Israel was in contact at all different levels with many actors in the region, including the Palestinian Authority.
“I think there is in principle common interests regarding Hamas,” he said, adding that no one in the region supports Hamas other than Iran and Qatar.
“This is something we want to ensure,” he said. Netanyahu said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could be part of an eventual solution for Gaza if he continues to understand that this Hamas, as it is now, “cannot be a part of a peace process.”
“I think that the whole world is now also starting to understand that,” he said.
To the degree that this common interest will get deeper, in addition to other actors in the region, “this could open ways to deal both with Hamas, and also open new diplomatic horizons that did not exist before us before this broke out.”
Regarding Israel's demand for the demilitarization of Gaza, Netanyahu -- who pointed out his opposition to the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza precisely because he thought Hamas would arm and fire missiles on Ashdod – said that now Israel is in the process of trying to “roll back” that process.
He said there was a simple truth: “if you give up territory in the Middle East, you get Islamic forces. Hezbollah in the north, Hamas and Islamic Jihad here[in the south]. That is not ideology, those are facts.”
Rolling the situation back, he said, will be done in stages and through different means. “This is a multi-stage camping. The problem will be solved, either militarily, or diplomatically, or a combination of two. But it will be solved over time, though I can't say when.”