Amid rapidly declining approval ratings, deep frustration among residents of the South, and harsh criticism from senior cabinet ministers, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the nation on Wednesday the Gaza operation was a military and diplomatic success.
Netanyahu, speaking at a Jerusalem press conference alongside Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, said that “Hamas was hit hard, and did not get any of the things it demanded for a cease-fire.”
A sedate, low-key Netanyahu said that from the first minute of the operation he set out clear goals: To hit Hamas and the other terrorist organizations hard, and through this to bring about a prolonged quiet for Israeli citizens.
“I can say that Hamas was indeed hit hard,” the prime minister said of the first goal.
As for the second, he was more circumspect.
“Will we get long term calm?” he asked. “I think it is too early to tell. But I can say that the blows to Hamas, and our ability to keep them from rearming by supervising the borders, increase the chances that this will be achieved.”
If there isn’t quiet and Hamas again starts a “drizzle” of rocket fire on any part of the country, he warned, “we will respond harder than we have until now. We are prepared for all possibilities.”
Netanyahu ticked off what he said were the country’s military achievements in the 50-day operation: destroying Hamas’s attack tunnels; killing some 1,000 terrorists, including top commanders; destroying thousands of rockets, rocket launchers, arms depots, and weapon manufacturing facilities; knocking out “hundreds” of command centers; and preventing Hamas attacks on Israel from the land, sea and air.
Furthermore, he said, all of Hamas’s conditions for a cease-fire were rejected, and the organization sued for a truce without any of its demands being met.
“They demanded a sea port and did not achieve this; they demanded an airport and did not achieve this; they demanded the release of prisoners placed back under arrest following the murder of the three Israeli boys; they demanded that Qatar mediate, and didn’t get it; they demanded Turkish mediation, and didn’t get. They didn’t get any of their conditions.”
In addition, he said, the organization is also isolated diplomatically, with it apparent to everyone that not even the Arab world came out in their defense. Netanyahu said that it was “no small thing” that Israel got 50 days from the international community – without it intervening – to pound the terrorist organization.
Netanyahu repeated what he has said a number of times since the beginning of the operation, that there is currently a “reorganization” of the forces in the Middle East, creating a “possible diplomatic horizon for Israel that holds within it new possibilities for our state.” He did not elaborate, however.
Asked if he felt that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was a partner for peace, Netanyahu said the Palestinian leader “needs to choose what side he is on.”
Netanyahu said he hopes Abbas will continue to want a diplomatic process with Israel and an eventual agreement, and if he did then Israel would want him and his forces in control of Gaza, instead of Hamas “going into Judea and Samaria. Today everyone knows who and what Hamas is.”
Netanyahu stressed that he never set as the goal of the operation the toppling of Hamas, though if Gaza was eventually demilitarized, then that would for all intents and purposes be Hamas’s demise. He also said that “destroying terrorist organizations is not easy,” and that even the United States has proven unable to destroy al-Qaida.
Ya’alon, who in his words defended both Netanyahu and Gantz from criticism voiced by various cabinet ministers, said that Netanyahu set out achievable and realistic goals, and was “not captive to slogans.”
Amid the criticism and the feeling by many of a missed opportunity, Ya’alon pointed out that the Six Day War in 1967 was acknowledged by everyone afterward to be a brilliant military victory, but was followed shortly by the War of Attrition. By contrast, the Second Lebanon War, which was widely criticized and seen by many as a failure, has been followed by eight years of complete quiet from Hezbollah in the North.
Netanyahu said that he and his colleagues lead the state “responsibly,” taking into account global considerations, and “not dealing with populism or Facebook.”
This appeared to be a lightly veiled jab at Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who slammed the cease-fire in a Facebook post on Wednesday, arguing that Israel must not agree to a diplomatic deal with Hamas.
“As long as Hamas controls Gaza, we won’t be able to ensure the safety of Israel’s citizens in the South and we won’t be able to make a peace agreement,” he wrote.
“Hamas is not a partner for any kind of arrangement, neither military or diplomatic. It is impossible and forbidden to trust lowly murderers.”
For those reasons, he said, he was “against a cease-fire that allows Hamas to rearm and wage another battle against Israel whenever it finds it comfortable.”
He said that as long as Hamas continued to govern in Gaza, then the tunnel and rocket threats would remain, adding that Hamas must not be given any diplomatic achievement as a result of the current cease-fire.
“A real peace process and a strategic breakthrough will only be possible after we succeed in freeing the Middle East and the Palestinians from the threat of Hamas (and no one else will do so in our place),“ he said. “It is forbidden to give Hamas any achievement. Hamas needs to be fought without compromise.”