Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held high-level security consultations Tuesday evening to plan what he said will be Israel’s forceful response to the escalating violence from Gaza.Netanyahu huddled in his office with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Intelligence Minister Israel Katz, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and other top security officials. He did not convene the security cabinet, something some interpreted as a sign that a largescale military operation was not in the immediate offing.Earlier in the day, speaking at the 9th annual Galilee Conference in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, Netanyahu said Israel would “respond with great force” to Tuesday morning’s barrage of mortar fire on the communities near the Gaza border.Netanyahu said Jerusalem views with “utmost gravity” the attacks, which he attributed to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“Israel will exact a heavy price from anyone who tries to harm it, and we view Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks against us,” he said.Katz told Army Radio that Israel does not want a war with Hamas in Gaza, but “will not allow attacks on its citizens.” He said that whether there will be a war is dependent now on Hamas. He also said that in Israel’s view, attacks on Nahal Oz and Sderot are the same as attacks on Tel Aviv.The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, instructed its diplomats abroad to demand a strong condemnation of the attacks from Gaza. The diplomats were told to stress that the missile attacks represented indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians, and that they have already resulted in injuries. The diplomats were also to stress that Israel holds Hamas, which acts in cooperation with Islamic Jihad, responsible for the escalation. The EU’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, responded immediately to the mortar attacks on the South, tweeting about the barrage as “kids were preparing for school,” and saying that “indiscriminate attacks are totally unacceptable and to be condemned unreservedly.”And UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned by the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian militants from Gaza toward communities in southern Israel.”Mladenov said that at least one of the rockets “hit in the immediate vicinity of a kindergarten and could have killed or injured children. Such attacks are unacceptable and undermine the serious efforts by the international community to improve the situation in Gaza.”He called on all parties to “exercise restraint, avoid escalation and prevent incidents that jeopardize the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”Netanyahu, in his speech in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, also referred to the tension in the north, saying that he has made clear on many occasions that Israel has redlines in Syria.“We will not allow Iran to entrench itself militarily in Syria and act against us from there, and also not to transfer dangerous weapons from Syria to Lebanon, or to manufacture them in Lebanon,” he said.Netanyahu clarified that Israel is acting against Iran’s military presence throughout Syria, and not just near Israel’s border.“An Iranian departure from southern Syria alone will not suffice,” he stressed. “The long-range missiles that Iran is working to station in Syria will endanger us even beyond the range of several kilometers from southern Syria; therefore, Iran needs to leave Syria altogether. We are not party to understandings to the effect that we have agreed to less than this.” The prime minister said that with or without understandings, Israel will act according to its security interests.“We will defend ourselves by ourselves, unified, united, and determined to ensure our security and our future,” he declared.His words come amid reports of understandings with Russia that would push Iranian forces between 60-70 kilometers from the Israeli border.
Israeli defense system shoots down Gaza mortar fire, Israeli kindergarten hit, May 29, 2018 (Reuters)