Netanyahu: We will have no choice but start military campaign in Gaza

On tarmac before heading to Russia PM said the goal of trip is to maintain Israeli freedom of action in Syria

IDF tanks gather near the Gaza border (photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
IDF tanks gather near the Gaza border
(photo credit: KOBI RICHTER/TPS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Thursday that Israel may have no choice but to embark on a military operation in Gaza to overthrow Hamas.
"It looks like there will be no other choice but to embark on a wide scale campaign in Gaza,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet Radio shortly before he boarded a flight to Moscow where he is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime. Hamas doesn’t exert its sovereignty in the Strip and doesn’t prevent attacks,” he said. “We have a situation in which a terror group that launches rockets has taken over, and doesn’t rein in rogue factions even when it wants to.”
Netanyahu's comments also came two days after a campaign rally in the southern city of Ashdod was interrupted by incoming rocket sirens after rockets were fired from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The prime minister said he wasn’t fazed by the rocket alert sirens when he was taken to safety by his security guards and that it was “absurd” if he remained on stage.
"I was calm and collected, I spoke quietly to the people in the audience and told them to evacuate,” Netanyahu said. “I wouldn't stand there like some kind of macho, telling everyone to stand still with me so we can all get hit by a missile. I acted in accordance with the Shin Bet protocol, that’s what you should do in these situations … anyone who tells you otherwise is being irresponsible,”
In the interview, Netanyahu criticized his own ministers who have been calling for the IDF to attack Hamas.
"Stop agitating for an operation in Gaza," Netanyahu said. "There will be an operation but I will not embark on it a moment before we are ready. I don't base my policy on tweets.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigor Liberman tweeted in response to Netanyahu’s comments, saying that  "Bibi will go to an operation in Gaza after he annexes the Jordan Valley and Elkana, and he will do all of this only after his next meeting with Boris Yeltsin, of blessed memory."
Liberman's tweet referred to Netanyahu calling Britain's prime minister Boris Yeltsin in Sunday's cabinet meeting.
On the tarmac before boarding the plane to Moscow Netanyahu said that the goal of his trip to Russia is to maintain Israel freedom of action in Syria.
“This is a very important trip. We are currently operating in several arenas, at 360 degrees, to ensure Israel's security, in the face of attempts by Iran and its proxies to attack us,” he said.
“This trip aims to continue this important coordination that prevents our collision with the Russian forces,” Netanyahu said, adding that the ultimate goal in Syria is to force Iran out of Syria, a goal that “is far from being achieved.”
Emphasizing the importance of the operations in Syria and highlighting how crucial the coordination with Russia is in this perspective, the prime minister said it “is important for us to continue to maintain the IDF and IAF's freedom of action against Iranian, Hezbollah and other terrorist targets.”
Speaking to Russian media ahead of his visit, Netanyahu said that through talks between him and Putin “we were able to avert a near-unavoidable crash between the Russian Air Force and our own forces during an operation in Syria."
When asked about the relationship between Tehran and Moscow, he claimed "I don't think Russia and Iran are getting closer, quite the opposite in fact, I see many situations in which [Russians] and Iranians have different interests."
On Wednesday, Moscow condemned Netanyahu’s intention to annex the Jordan Valley if he wins next week’s election, warning that this could lead to an “escalation” in the region.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Moscow believes implementation of the plan “could lead to a sharp escalation of tension in the region and undermine hopes for the establishment of a long-awaited peace between Israel and the Arab neighbors.”