Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Wednesday Israel has no intention of ignoring rocket fire on its citizens, adding that “elements in Islamic Jihad” carried out Tuesday’s attack on Gan Yavne.
Ya’alon spoke after the Israel Air Force struck four Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas targets in southern Gaza overnight Tuesday, after a Grad rocket shattered four weeks of quiet by slamming into the Gan Yavne area, east of Ashdod, setting off air raid sirens but failing to cause injuries.
Unconfirmed reports suggested that Hamas security forces arrested a number of gunmen responsible for firing the rocket at Israel, but sources close to Hamas would neither confirm nor deny the reports.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel views Hamas as responsible for every rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, adding that the IDF responded immediately, in line with the government’s policy.
Residents of southern Gaza awake to sites of destruction from overnight Israeli airstrikes
“We will do everything needed to preserve the quiet attained through Operation Protective Edge,” he said.
Ya’alon echoed the prime minister, saying Hamas is “responsible for what happens in the territory of Gaza, and we will not tolerate any threat to residents of the South. If there won’t be quiet in Israel, Gaza will pay a very heavy price, which will cause all who plan to challenge us to regret their actions,” Ya’alon said. “Hamas is advised to restrain any attempt to fire rockets at Israel or provoke it, otherwise we will be forced to act with greater power. I would not advise anyone to test us.”
Hamas on Wednesday held Israel responsible for “escalating” the situation after air force planes attacked a number of targets in the Gaza Strip in response.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned Israel against “stupid actions” in the Gaza Strip, while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Israeli threats “do not scare the Gaza Strip.”
Haniyeh stated that Hamas security forces and other Palestinian factions in Gaza have managed to contain the situation and prevent a further escalation of tensions. He did not elaborate. He admitted, however, that a “stray rocket” was fired at Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin said he is not averse to negotiating with Hamas, stating that the rehabilitation of Gaza is in the interests of both Israel and the Palestinians.
The president said Israel would retaliate strongly against any rocket fire from Gaza, as well as every attempt to destroy the relatively tranquil situation since Operation Protective Edge.
Nonetheless, he said, it was important for someone to come up with a rehabilitation initiative in which Israel could participate, stressing that this should be an international initiative contingent on the removal of any Hamas threat against Israel.
When asked whether Israel should conduct talks with Hamas, Rivlin replied: “I’m not interested in whom I talk to. I’m interested in what we talk about. I have no aversion to negotiating with Hamas if Hamas is wiling to negotiate with me.”
Opposition MKs had mixed reactions to the IDF’s counterattack on Gaza.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman called it “a wimpy response of a faux-government.”
“All they did was throw four bombs at sand,” he told Army Radio. “The is a government that does not get in the way of terrorist organizations rehabilitating their terrorist infrastructure.”
Liberman recounted that, during coalition talks, he demanded that the government’s guidelines state that they plan to eradicate Hamas rule from Gaza, “but it was clear that the Likud has no intention of setting that goal or realizing it. That’s part of the reason we are not part of the government.”
Immigration Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin responded that for six years, while Liberman was foreign minister, the policy was to answer every time a rocket was shot from Gaza, and that policy continues.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On, meanwhile, warned that the IDF bombing was too strong a response and called on Netanyahu to “take a deep breath and don’t be dragged after politicians who want to bring us back to Operation Protective Edge and bring Hamas’s collapse and make us deteriorate into another escalation.
“It’s true that a rocket launched at Gan Yavne that puts people in shelters is intolerable, but responding with bombs and force will not prevent the next round [of fighting]. We already saw it doesn’t work,” she said.
Instead, Gal-On suggested that the government offer incentives that will reduce Gazans’ motivation to commit acts of terrorism as part of a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians and with the Arab League’s cooperation.
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) also called the IDF response “minor, to say the least.”
“Israel does not have a policy in connection to the conflict in the South. [Netanyahu] does not have a vision or a plan and apparently not the desire to bring a diplomatic process and international intervention that will bring any change to the ritual in which have been trapped for 14 years,” he added.
Greer Fay Cashman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.