The next round of fighting with Hamas in the Gaza Strip is just a matter of time, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday during a visit to the Gaza Division.
“Since the start of the ‘March of Return,’ Hamas has claimed 168 dead, another 4,348 wounded and dozens of terror infrastructures destroyed,” Liberman said. “The question of the next round of fighting is not ‘whether’ but ‘when.’ I’m sure we’ll do what is needed.”
While at the Gaza Division, Liberman met with the IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the Head of the Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Herzi Halevi, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon and representatives from Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
“We are conducting a responsible and powerful security policy. Responsible security policy is not an answer-not to online commenters, not newspaper headlines or public opinion. We are prepared and know what to do and how to do it,” Liberman said.
Liberman’s comments came after another round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which saw more than 200 rockets and mortars fired from the coastal enclave toward southern Israeli communities within a 24-hour period last week, and more than 150 retaliatory strikes by Israeli jets.
While a cease-fire to end the escalation of violence was said to have been agreed upon by the two sides, officials of both sides have denied signing a cease-fire. Nevertheless according to a senior security official there has been complete quiet on the Gaza border for the past two days, with no incendiary aerial devices igniting fires or violence the fence.
Lieberman will hold a briefing with senior IDF and Defense establishment officials on the situation in southern Israel on Tuesday at noon.
The senior security official stated that the defense establishment wants to examine whether the two days of quiet is a signal from the other side. If the quiet is maintained, Israel will consider further easing to the blockaded coastal enclave in the coming days by opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing and increasing the fishing zone off of the coast of Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Israel would accept nothing short of a “complete” cease-fire from Hamas, including the full cessation of aerial incendiary devices being launched from the Hamas-run enclave into southern Israel.
“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza. It entails an exchange of blows, it will not end in one strike. Our demand is clear – a complete ceasefire. We will not suffice with less than this,” Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.
“Our objective is to restore the quiet to residents of the south and the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip; this goal will be achieved in full,” he added.
Gazans have been protesting along the border since March 30th, as part of what organizers have called the “March of Return.” Demonstrators have been throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and rocks toward Israeli troops and flying incendiary kites, condoms and balloon into Israeli territory, destroying more than 1,000 hectares of forest, nature reserves and agricultural fields.
There have even been several incidents with falcons and other birds found dead in southern Israel with incendiary devices attached to them.
While the damage caused by these devices has been contained to fields, forests and wildlife – with no human casualties so far – public pressure is mounting on the Israeli government and IDF.
On Sunday, Channel 10 reported Israel has prevented tens of thousands of balloons from entering Gaza out of concern they would be used to burn Israeli fields. According to the report, three shipping containers full of thousands of balloons were confiscated at Ashdod Port.
In June, the Defense Ministry announced it was limiting the entrance of helium into the Hamas-run coastal enclave which is used for various medical reasons such as for MRI machines. According to Israel, Palestinians have been using the gas to fill incendiary balloons to increase the distance they could travel.
“If we had fired at the first kite launchers when there were still one or two of them, we would not have reached thousands,” Bennett said.
“If we had struck the first kite launchers when there were still one or two of them, it would not have reached thousands,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday.
Israel’s policy of restraint in the Gaza Strip has failed and an alternative response to Hamas must be considered, said Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, to Israel’s public broadcaster, KAN.
“They are terrorists in the full meaning of the word and we must eliminate them,” Bennett said. “If we follow the formula of ‘quiet in return for quiet,’ we will end up with a stronger Hamas, and we will have a second Hezbollah in Gaza. We have no interest in hurting the residents of Gaza, but we have a clear goal. Just like we had the strategic threat of tunnels and ignored it for years, until Operation Protective Edge, we have to do the same with a militarized Gaza. It is inconceivable that Hamas will fire on us when they wish and we will remain silent.”
Bennett added Israel is more than ready to remove the restrictions imposed on Gaza in recent weeks, including the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing and the fishing area, if the kite launches are ceased and the quiet continues.
Bennett’s words were said after a tentative quiet for the past few days. Hamas has restrained its rocket fire since Thursday, though it remains unclear if Hamas stopped the rocket fire as the result of a mutual understanding reached with Israel, or if it was a unilateral decision.
Israel has imposed tight restrictions on the border, the kind that signify a situation of continued violence. It has continued its almost two-week ban on fuel and gas shipments into Gaza and its more than a month-long ban on commercial goods.
Netanyahu spoke as Israel is working on a three-pronged approach to Gaza: preparations for a military campaign; an understanding by which calm is restored; and the possibility of approving a long-term and extensive cease-fire deal.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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