Netanyahu deflects criticism over tunnels, welcomes Sisi peace push

PM says last two years in south have been the most quiet in a decade.

Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone laying ceremony in Sderot. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu speaks during a cornerstone laying ceremony in Sderot.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amid calls from bereaved parents for a commission of inquiry to investigate 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, and as he spars with ministers – past and present – over whether the government was sufficiently prepared to deal with the Hamas terrorist tunnels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Sderot on Thursday that the two years since the operation had been the quietest in a decade.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the completion of a program to structurally reinforce residences in the city often hit by Hamas rockets, Netanyahu said that while Israel could not shape the strategic environment in which it lived, “we do have the possibility of achieving deterrence against our enemies and, to the extent necessary, to inflict significant damage to the terrorist infrastructure.”
Israel’s policy, he said, “is to respond vigorously to any violation – no matter how small – of the calm” and to “make it clear to those on the other side that the rules of the game have changed. Quiet here equals quiet in Gaza.
Attacking us will lead to ruin and destruction for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and whoever tries to attack us from the other side of the fence. We will respond in strength to any attempt to attack our communities and our citizens.”
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira reportedly threatened Netanyahu this week that he would support the establishment of a commission of inquiry if the prime minister tries to delay publication of his report. According to a report on Channel 2, Shapira said he would support the establishment of the commission if the Knesset decides to make the report’s findings confidential.
Meanwhile Thursday, Netanyahu called to reinforce homes in Sderot a necessary “lifesaving step,” but not a substitute for Israel’s strong offensive capabilities.
“I am constantly hearing about what Hamas is doing, but I know what we are doing,” he said. “I know what we are planning. I know how we are organizing. I know, but I do not intend to tell you.”
The prime minister noted that none of the conditions Hamas set for the final ceasefire two years ago had been met, and that the fighting led to Israel’s cooperation with others in the region that has reached an unprecedented level. He apparently was alluding to Israel’s growing security and diplomatic cooperation with Egypt.
That heightened cooperation was in evidence when Netanyahu, for the first time in seven years, attended Egypt’s Revolution Day ceremony at the home of Ambassador Hazem Khairat. Revolution Day marks the anniversary of the 1952 military coup that overthrew King Farouk.
Netanyahu thanked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for his “leadership and his efforts to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and in the wider Middle East.” He added that Israel and Egypt had “made history by showing the world that peace between Arabs and Israel is possible and sustainable.”
Israel and Egypt, the premier said, have been at peace for nearly four decades, “through storms, turbulence, earthquakes.
We have remained in peace, and we shall remain in peace.” He called the peace accord “an anchor of security and stability in our region.”
While Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin were invited to the event, Channel 10 reported that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was not.
Liberman had infuriated the Egyptians in the past by suggesting that Israel could bomb the Aswan Dam, and was a frequent critic of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for visiting Israel briefly only once, for the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin.