Israel gave no indication of an imminent cease-fire on Thursday night, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying publicly that Operation Protective Edge is continuing in full force, and privately that Hamas’s conditions for a cease-fire are a non-starter.
“Hamas has demands from here to Vladivostok,” Netanyahu said in a private meeting, rejecting their conditions for stopping Operation Protective Edge – now in its 18th day.
“We are continuing Operation Protective Edge at full strength, in the air and on the ground,” he said at the opening of a special cabinet session held in the Knesset. The security cabinet is scheduled to meet on Friday afternoon to consider the direction of the military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu spoke by phone on Thursday with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who returned to Cairo from Israel the previous night to continue his so-far unsuccessful efforts to forge a cease-fire.
At the start of the cabinet meeting, the prime minister reiterated that the goal of the ground campaign remained to deal with the tunnels.
“While there are no guarantees of 100 percent success, IDF soldiers are having important successes in locating and neutralizing the terrorist tunnels,” he said. “I remind you that the terrorist tunnels were designed to penetrate the State of Israel and allow the enemy to strike at it and perpetuate deadly and large-scale attacks against Israeli civilians.”
Netanyahu added that “IDF soldiers were continuing to take strong action across the Gaza Strip. As of now, the IDF has struck a deep and significant blow at the infrastructures of terrorism – at the terrorists themselves, at rockets, at command centers, at production facilities and at many other targets.”
A Channel 2 poll broadcast on Thursday found Israelis split on whether the operation should end after the tunnels were dealt with. While 41% said the IDF should stop the operation when the tunnels are neutralized, another 46% said the operation should continue until Hamas is toppled.
That same poll showed that the offensive has brought Netanyahu massive support, something common for a wartime leader. According to the poll, 82% said they were satisfied with his performance during the crisis, and only 10% said they were not.
Last week, 57% said they were satisfied, compared to 35% dissatisfied.
The Channel 2 poll also showed that 37% of the population said the operation would bring quiet to the South, while 56% said it would not. This also marked a significant difference from last week, when a similar poll found that 92% of the population did not think the campaign would bring quiet.
Earlier in the day, following a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Netanyahu said the IDF continued to pound Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza, killing and capturing “many terrorists.”
The prime minister, in addition to meeting with Hammond, has met over the past two days with Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who have been working to bring an end to the fighting.
Israel accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire last week. That proposal called for an immediate cessation of fire followed by discussions 48 hours later during which Israel would raise security and demilitarization demands.
“Hamas said no, and has a long list of demands,” one official said. “As long as Hamas has closed the door to the cease-fire, the other [military] option will be pursued vigorously.”
The official said the killing of some 15 Palestinians in an UNRWA facility in t he northern Gaza Strip on Thursday was “not a game changer,” adding that Jerusalem feels the IDF still has diplomatic time “to get the job done.”
According to the official, compared to Israel’s previous military operations over the past decade, there is much less pressure on Israel from abroad – especially from the Arab world. He pointed out that during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah was a hero.
“Is [Hamas head Khaled] Mashaal a hero anywhere?” he asked.
Even the demonstrations in European cities were being carried out primarily by Arabs and Muslims, with less of an accumulative effect on the national governments, the official pointed out.
Meanwhile, the cabinet approved a series of measures to strengthen the home front, including advances on National Insurance payments to IDF reservists and employers, assistance to local authorities, the purchase of additional portable reinforced shelters, supplements for social welfare and health services, boosting the tourism sector and economic support for residences and businesses.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.