Gantz: If quiet is not kept, Gaza will suffer

Security officials tie the escalation to the event in Jerusalem * Kohavi pushes off trip to the US

Benny Gantz at a press conference in Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel. (photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
Benny Gantz at a press conference in Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel.
(photo credit: ELAD MALKA)
The escalation in Gaza, in which terrorists launched almost 40 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory throughout the weekend, is tied to the ongoing riots in Jerusalem in which far-right Jews and Arabs clashed throughout the week, security officials said over the weekend.
Gazans launched 36 rockets into Israeli territory in the night between Friday and Saturday, and another two on Saturday night before press time. Seven rockets were intercepted. In retaliation, an IDF tank attacked a Hamas outpost and IAF aircraft struck rocket launchers during the night.
Security officials believe that a further upsurge in violence in Jerusalem could lead to an escalation in the South — and vice versa — while calming the clashes in the capital could stop the deterioration of the situation in Gaza.
They also believe that Hamas has lost control of the situation, as there was no intention by Hamas to ignite the situation to this extent with Israel. Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other “recalcitrant organizations,” as they are known in the security establishment, fired most of the rockets.
Most of the rockets landed in open fields, were fired from short ranges and were not aimed at major civilian areas, which could also indicate that there was no intention to further escalate the situation.
On Saturday afternoon, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi held a security assessment meeting with senior officers, as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen, National Security Council Chief Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, among others, at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Gantz said on Saturday that if the quiet will not be kept on the Gaza border, the Strip will be “severely hit – in its economy, security, and from the civilian perspective.”
Speaking after the situation assessment meeting, Gantz said “the equation is very clear to them [Hamas]. The IDF is ready for the option of further escalation, and we will do anything we can to keep the situation calm.”
Netanyahu said afterward that he instructed security chiefs in the meeting to prepare for all scenarios with Gaza.
“We also heard an overview of the situation from the chief of police,” Netanyahu said. “We want, first of all, to ensure law and order. We are protecting freedom of worship as we do all year long, for all residents and visitors in Jerusalem. We now demand that people follow the law and I call for calm on all sides.”
Kohavi instructed the army to prepare for a possible escalation.
The first three rocket launches were detected as coming from the Gaza Strip and falling near the town of Kissufim in the Eshkol Regional Council. The IDF’s Iron Dome missile-defense system intercepted one of them; the other two fell in open areas near the border fence.
Later on Friday night, at around 1:50 a.m., additional sirens were heard at Alumim, Be’eri, Kfar Maimon and Tushiya, in the Sdot Negev and Eshkol regional councils.
Minutes later, more sirens were heard in Mivtahim, Amioz, Yesha, Nir Yitzhak, Tzohar, and Ohad, all in the Eshkol Regional Council.
Just before Israel’s top security officials convened with the prime minister for a situation assessment meeting, the Mujahideen Brigades in Gaza launched test rockets toward the sea, as part of a drill commemorating 20 years since their establishment.
The IDF briefly instructed citizens living in the border communities to avoid working in the fields adjacent to the fence, to halt the activities of the education system and to prevent large gatherings of people. The restrictions were lifted on Saturday morning.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid commented on the events, saying: “The residents of the border communities near Gaza had a hard night. The State of Israel can’t allow them to go back to a reality of fear and terror.
“Hamas must pay a heavy price for breaking the quiet,” he said. “I send my support to the residents of the [Gaza] envelope.
“Thirty-six rockets. Hamas in the South, Hezbollah in the North, and Iran are all seeing the weakness of our paralyzed government,” he added.
The US State Department tweeted: “We condemn the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. There is no justification for such attacks.”
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said: “The terrorists in Gaza are going wild with their rockets against the residents of the South; Arab rioters are lynching Jews in the heart of our capital Jerusalem.
“This is not why we established a state,” he said.
“The Israeli government needs to use all the tools it has to provide its citizens with security and safety.”
Lahav Harkov, Idan Zonshine and Gadi Zaig contributed to this report.