The Israeli government's security cabinet is currently meeting to discuss expanding further the ground incursion into Gaza that was launched late Thursday.
Israel launched the ground operation Thursday night because there is no other way to deal with the labyrinth of tunnels threatening Israel from inside the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Friday.
Netanyahu, speaking at the opening of an emergency cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, said that “since there is no way to deal with the tunnels only from the air, our soldiers are doing it now from the ground.”
Netanyahu said that there was no guarantee of 100% success, but that everything was being done to get “maximum results.” The meeting was being held in a protected room in the Defense Ministry so it would not be interrupted by possible rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said he has directed the army to prepare for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation. He explained that the decision to launch the operation was made after Hamas continued to fire on Israel even after Israel accepted both an Egyptian cease-fire proposal on Tuesday, and a UN initiative for a humanitarian lull in the fighting on Thursday.
“We decided to launch the action after we tried all the other ways, and with an understanding that without this operation the price we will have to pay later would be much higher,” he said.
Netanyahu said that intensive diplomatic efforts have created diplomatic space for Israel to act systematically and with force against the terrorist organizations. “ This is not a given,” he stressed.
“The supreme consideration guiding us is to restore security to the civilians and quiet to the state,” he said. “There is not a more moral army than the IDF, and we do not want to harm even one innocent civilian. Not even one. We are operating only against terror targets.”
Netanyahu said that the terrorist organizations bear the responsibility for harm to the civilians in Gaza because they are attacking Israeli towns and cities from behind human shields.
Netanyahu said that he knows that the world will get a distorted picture of the operation, something that is “unpreventable.”
“But unlike in the past, this time there are many in the international community who understand that Hamas alone bears responsibility for the victims,” he said. “This is something very important for Israel.”
Netanyahu praised the country for its fortitude and called on it to continue to heed the directives of the Homefront Command.
“I met the officers leading the IDF action,” he said.
“They are unbelievably impressive: courageous, determined, full of faith and values,” he said. “I stand in wonder at the motivation of our soldiers, both the regular soldiers and reservists, who want to take part in the campaign. They understand that their objective is to defend the citizens of Israel. They know that they are fighting for a supreme goal: to defend our home.”
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz told the cabinet that even as the ground operation was underway in the south, Israel was keeping its eyes open on other fronts as well.
Speaking to reporters before the cabinet meeting, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch counseled patience, saying the operation “will not end that fast.” He said that Israel was not talking about re-taking the Strip, but had defined the goals.
“The IDF will strike Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” he said. “We waited a long time [before launching the ground operation], the minute when Hamas was not willing to accept a cease-fire we had legitimacy to act.”
Aharonovitch said it was predictable that the firing of rockets on the south would continue, and that patience was needed. “This will not end in one or two days,” he said.
He said that no decision yet was taken to re-take Gaza. “We might get to that stage, but now the operation is going as planned.”
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said that the goal of the beginning of the campaign is to remove the threats posed by the tunnels.
He said what was needed was a massive significant ground operation, and afterward “to continue to strike the terrorists and not wait a year or a half and allow them to replenish their strength for another round.”
Ariel said that Israel needed to take into consideration diplomatic pressure to reach a cease-fire, and for that reason needed to move quickly and not find itself under pressure it will not be able to withstand.
“He said Israel needed to “go in and finish the job.” There is no choice but to move inside the Strip and “make order.”