Israel has not ruled out the option of reoccupying Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday morning in an interview with KAN news.
“All the options are still on the table, including entering Gaza and occupying it, out of consideration of what is best for Israel,” he told the radio station. “But that is the last option and not the first.”
Netanyahu spoke about his policy regarding the Hamas-ruled enclave of two million Palestinians just before he left for Moscow on Thursday.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas kicked the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party out of Gaza in 2007 in a bloody coup.
Netanyahu explained to KAN news the complex balancing act Israel tries to uphold with regard to Gaza, where it has the firepower to militarily crush Hamas, but has concluded it would be a mistake to do except as an option of last resort.
Israel hasn’t recaptured Gaza, because once it does, it would have to continue to hold onto that territory and Israel doesn’t want to rule the two million Palestinians there, Netanyahu said.
The other option would be to hand the Gaza Strip to another country so it could take charge of that territory – and no one else has volunteered, he added.
When he first entered office, Netanyahu said he had hoped that another power would want to take charge of Gaza.
“I had hoped that we would find someone who would take it,” he said. “I have spoken with many Arab leaders about this possibility” but “no one wanted to do this.”
He explained that his policy over the last decade has therefore been to try and contain the situation, saying that no Israeli civilian has been killed from Gaza violence in southern Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.
Israel has encircled Gaza with a concentrated military power, he said, and has killed over 300 Palestinian terrorists at the border over the last year, while preventing them from “trying to kidnap and kill our soldiers.”
At the same time, he explained, ending the violence through diplomacy has been difficult because “you can’t enter into a diplomatic agreement with someone who wants to kill you.”
Looking toward the future, he said, he doesn’t even know if it would be possible to come to a long-term ceasefire understanding. “But one thing I do know. I am not engaging in needless wars. I want to use the force that is necessary and I am willing to pay the price, but only when it is necessary.”
He also added that he was willing to pay the political price for not going to war.
“I want every mother and father to know that I am not sending their children to war without first exhausting all other options. It could be that we will be forced to embark on an extended [military] campaign in Gaza. The [IDF] forces are in place, but it’s not the first option,” he said.