Renewed hostilities between Hamas and Israel could take place in 2018 if a solution is not found to Gaza’s dire economic and humanitarian situation, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot told the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.“We must make a significant effort to prevent a humanitarian collapse in the Gaza Strip,” said Eisenkot, warning that the situation was deteriorating and urging Israel to take action to avert the collapse of Gaza.
He clarified, however, that this step to rehabilitate Gaza should only occur if the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are returned, as well as releasing Israeli civilians Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima.With regard to the northern front, Eisenkot said he did not believe there would be a war in the near future.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel is not interested in war but will do everything to defend itself, amid an escalation in recent days of rhetoric on the possibility of war along one or more of the country’s borders.Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin last week that Israel would prevent Iran from entrenching itself militarily in Syria and from turning Lebanon into a base for manufacturing precision missiles for use against Israel.Netanyahu’s comments came at the weekly cabinet meeting before a briefing given by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. Netanyahu said he has full confidence in Eisenkot and the IDF. He said he told Putin, US President Donald Trump, and European leaders in recent meetings that Israel is the central factor in the Middle East blocking the spread of radical Islam being led by Iran and Islamic State, which he said threatens many others around the world.On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told The Institute for National Security Studies annual conference in Tel Aviv that since Hezbollah and Lebanon were indistinguishdable, if Hezbollah fires missiles on Israel, Lebanon will pay the “full price.”“There won’t be pictures like the ones from the Second Lebanon War showing people on the beach in Beirut while Tel Aviv residents sat in bomb shelters. This won’t happen,” he said. “If people in Tel Aviv are in bomb shelters, then they will also be in shelters in Beirut. This has to be clear to the other side.”Regarding the situation in the South, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat on Sunday reported that sources close to Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar believe there is a “95% chance” that Israel will launch another conflict as it carries out several IDF drills in the southern part of the country.In the past 10 years, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, including a 51-day confrontation in 2014.Sinwar and other Gazabased Palestinian leaders “expect that Israel will take advantage” of a military exercise in southern Israel to launch a war on Gaza, the sources said.Moreover, Hamas and other Palestinian factions and their armed wings have declared the highest state of alert, placing security checkpoints around Gaza and evacuating most of their headquarters, the sources added.The IDF is currently conducting a large-scale drill in southern Israel to simulate securing and evacuating Israeli communities near Gaza in wartime. However, an IDF spokeswoman flatly denied that the IDF had any intention of waging a war on Gaza during the drill.“There are no such plans,” she said. “The report is false.”In the past year, top leaders from both Israel and Hamas have repeatedly said they do not want a war.Anna Ahronheim, Tovah Lazaroff and Maariv contributed to this report.
Gaza border brief with Seth J. Frantzman