Hamas is pushing Israel into a wide scale Gaza war that will be larger in scope than Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said as he visited the southern city of Sderot on Friday morning.
“Hamas leaders are forcibly leading us into a situation where we will have no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a painful, wide-scale military operation,” Liberman said.
“Hamas is responsible for this crisis, but unfortunately it’s the Gaza residents that may have to pay the price,” he noted.
Liberman added that such a military operation “will be larger and more painful than Operation Protective Edge,” in reference to the 2014 summer war with Hamas in Gaza.
He called on Gaza residents to pressure Hamas to change direction and halt its attacks on Israel, which in the last weeks have included flaming kites, rockets and mortars.
It’s possible to restore a state of reason in which “economic relief can be exchanged for a complete cessation of terror and incitement,” Liberman noted.
He also argued that while there are those in the media who said that one shouldn’t go to war because of the flaming kites.
Anyone, however, who has seen the burnt forests and the thousand of agricultural fields that were destroyed, “understands that the situation is intolerable.”
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He indirectly referenced the Great March of Return which began at the end of March, with the aim of sending thousands of Palestinians to break down the southern Israel-Gaza border.
It is often referred to by pro-Palestinian supporters as a “peaceful protest.” But along the border fence it has involved repeated infiltration attempts, violent riots, tire burning and the launching of incendiary objects into Israel including flaming kites and balloons.
“Let there be no illusion or misunderstandings,” Liberman said.
“These are not spontaneous actions. This is not about children or the masses. It’s Hamas leaders who have instigated all the fires, the kites and the friction along the fence.”
In the last three months, he said, Palestinian terrorists were killed and 5,000 injured. Vital Hamas infrastructure was damaged including production facilities, a munitions depot, a central training facility and two tunnels, Liberman said.
“Last weekend we dropped almost 50 tons of explosives on Hamas' strategic centers. I think the message is clear, but and if it is not understood, we will have to continue,” Liberman said.
“We have acted responsibly and with restraint, even though the real problem is that our deterrence capacity is eroding,” the Defense Minister pointed out.
“The change to this equation and of course the sense of security, is not less important than security itself.”
One should not accept the situation, just as the one that occurs last weekend, in which residents of the southern periphery ran some 20 times into shelters or made preparations to make their security rooms usable, part of their sabbath preparations Liberman said.
“We have acted responsibly and with discretion,” he added.
He spoke as the United Nations and Egypt worked behind the scenes to broker a cease-fire, that could include the reunification of the rival Hamas and Fatah factions and the exchange of an economic package for Gaza for the cessation of Palestinian violence.
Israel has no direct dialogue with Hamas, Liberman said.
“We are in close contact with all the relevant parties; wether it is Egypt or the UN envoy.”
United States envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner as well as the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman published an opinion piece in the Washington Post
in which they called on Hamas to abandon terror and embark on an economic recovery plan for Gaza.
“For far too long, Gaza has lurched from crisis to crisis, sustained by emergency appeals and one-time caravans of aid, without dealing with the root cause: Hamas leadership is holding the Palestinians of Gaza captive. This problem must be recognized and resolved or we will witness yet another disastrous cycle,” the wrote.
On his Twitter account Greenblatt, clearly aimed at Gaza residents, wrote in Arabic "If Gaza lives in peace with its neighbors, it can be a tourist destination like Sharm el-Sheikh and Tel Aviv. But with the leadership of Hamas, seawater that can provide suitable conditions for the establishment of resorts has become smelly and dangerous due to untreated sewage. There is no money to pay for wastewater treatment or to provide electricity because Hamas spends Palestinian money on terrorism instead."
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