A somber but controlled Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the nation on Tuesday night – two hours after the funerals of Gil-Ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel – that Israel would apprehend the boys’ murderers, continue pounding Hamas in the West Bank, and expand the operation in Gaza if “the need arises.”
Netanyahu, speaking alongside Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv before convening a security cabinet meeting, said that anyone harboring the illusion that they would achieve anything through terrorism would be disappointed.
“They will get the exact opposite results,” he said. “Hamas is responsible, Hamas is paying, and Hamas will continue to pay.”
Netanyahu laid out three goals of the continued military operation.
The first, he said, was to apprehend the killers and anyone who participated in their kidnapping and murders.
“We will not rest until we get to the very last of them, and it does not matter where they try to hide,” he said. “We will get to them, even if it takes time. This is our first goal, and it will be carried out.”
Second, the prime minister said, the IDF will hit Hamas operatives and infrastructure in Judea and Samaria hard.
“We have already arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, closed dozens of their institutions, and destroyed homes – and more is to come.”
The third goal, he said, is to act against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas continues to encourage the kidnappings of our citizens, and is directly responsible for the firing of rockets and mortars on our territory,” he said.
Netanyahu said that the IDF was currently acting against terrorist targets inside Gaza, and added that there, too, the campaign would be expanded “as is necessary.”
Ya’alon said that this was the time, “as always,” to act responsibly, with caution and wisdom, and “to think with the head, not the gut, be patient and rely on the IDF and security services who are doing good work.”
Following their statements, the three men went to the security cabinet meeting that began at 9 p.m., where operative decisions were expected.
This meeting followed the heart-wrenching funerals of the teens, attended by the ministers.
Tuesday evening’s meeting followed a three-hour meeting the night before, after the bodies of the youths were found, during which substantial differences about the appropriate response emerged among the members of the security cabinet.
The eight-person security cabinet is comprised of Netanyahu, Ya’alon (Likud), Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu), Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud).
The key disagreements centered around whether Israel’s military actions should be expanded against Hamas in Gaza, with Ya’alon and the military brass recommending a more measured response.
Bennett advocated hitting Hamas much harder than is currently the case, including inside the Strip, and accused the IDF of bringing weak options that would only invite the next kidnappings.
Ya’alon opposed initiating an escalation in Gaza, asking at one point whether Israel was really interested in waging war in Gaza at this time.
Erdan, who advocated a tougher response against Hamas in the West Bank, also opposed extending the operation to Gaza.
Among other options being weighed are deportations of Hamas leaders and a renewal of targeted killings.
Liberman, who was abroad during Monday night’s meeting but returned on Tuesday, issued a statement calling on Israel to launch a “Defensive Shield” type of operation in Gaza to deliver a crippling blow to Hamas, referring to the wide-spread military operation launched in the West Bank in 2002 following the Park Hotel massacre in Netanya on Passover eve.
“We should not bury our heads in the sand, and should realize that there is a connection between the murder of the youths and the increasing rocket attacks on the South,” he said.
According to Liberman, this “flows from Hamas’s efforts to take control of the Palestinian Authority and Judea and Samaria, following the establishment of a Palestinian unity government.”
Hamas was and remains a terrorist organization, and its murderous activities are the core of its operations, the foreign minister said.
“Therefore, there is a need to prevent Hamas’s control of the territories by way of a determined military action, as was done with Defensive Shield over a decade ago,” he said.
Such an operation would damage Hamas’s infrastructure, its capabilities and its operational abilities, he said.
Liberman has recently suggested that Israel, if it wants to end the endless “exchange of blows” with Hamas over the rocket fire on the South, will need to once again completely take over the Gaza Strip.
Another major disagreement in the security cabinet meeting revolved around whether Israel should announce settlement construction as a response to the murders, with Ya’alon proposing the establishment of a new settlement in Gush Etzion.
Livni adamantly opposed this, saying the minute this is done Israel would lose the widespread international support it received as a result of the murders, and would turn the kidnappings and murder from a national tragedy into a political issue.
Condemnations of the murders poured in from around the world, from Moscow to Canberra, Quebec to Rome. Many of the condemnations, including one issued by UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, included appeals to Israel to act with restraint.
In a sign of the tension in the room during Monday night’s security cabinet meeting, when Gantz praised the security cabinet for the measured manner in which it has handled the crisis, Erdan interrupted him and said that it was not his job to give the forum grades.
As a rule of thumb, Livni and Lapid make up the left flank of the security cabinet, with Bennett and Erdan on the right. Aharonovitch follows Liberman’s lead on many of the issues, and Netanyahu and Ya’alon often vote together.