Netanyahu: Hamas leaders are legitimate targets, no one is invincible

PM says that Operation Protective Edge is not over; does not confirm or deny reports that Israel attempted to kill Hamas military leader Muhammad Deif; says Hamas and ISIS are "branches of the same tree."

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Hamas leaders are primary and legitimate military targets in Operation Protective Edge, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday night, as he explained that Israel’s military operation in Gaza is not over.
“Operation Protective Edge has not ended, not for a moment – this is an ongoing campaign,” Netanyahu said.
Hamas is part of a larger network of terrorist groups that Israel has fought for many years, such as Hezbollah, al-Qaida, and Islamic Jihad.
Recently this has also included Islamic State, said Netanyahu.
“We have not given up on our goal to overthrow Hamas and its leadership,” he said.
Israeli citizens should be able to sleep safely at night and their children should not have to run for cover, Netanyahu said.
He spoke just one day after the latest cease-fire fell apart, which was followed by an attempted IDF assassination of Hamas’s top military commander, Mohammed Deif – whose wife and son were killed in the attack. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday with regard to Deif’s survival.
Netanyahu would not comment on the attempt itself, but said more globally that Israel intends to pursue Hamas leaders during this campaign. They are not invincible, he added.
The prime minister said there is no crisis in US-Israeli relations, noting that he had spoken with President Barack Obama four times during Operation Protective Edge and often with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“I spoke today with Secretary Kerry, it was a very good conversation. I spoke with him yesterday and the day before,” Netanyahu said.
The Obama Administration has stood behind Israel in its conflict with Gaza and has offered it more support than the past administration did, said Netanyahu. He thanked the US for its continued financing of Iron Dome, which has intercepted 90 percent of the rockets Palestinians launch against Israel from Gaza.
The US also agrees with Israel that Gaza must be demilitarized, Netanyahu said.
He rejected the idea that Hamas had become more popular as a result of Operation Protective Edge.
“Its more isolated than you would imagine. The whole Arab world is against it,” said Netanyahu who explained that Hamas is a much weaker organization as a result of Operation Protective Edge, both militarily and diplomatically. Israel has dealt Hamas its harshest blow since its creation, he said.
“Who supports Hamas?” Netanyahu asked, answering, “Qatar, Turkey, and Iran.”
Israel has not given up on the possibility of a cease-fire agreement, a permanent agreement, or any other diplomatic solutions, Netanyahu said. What is important is to restore security, whether that happens through diplomacy or on the battlefield, he asserted.
Israeli citizens should be able to sleep at night and their children should not have to run for cover, Netanyahu said.
He added that he appreciates the role that Egypt has played as a mediator during the conflict and clarified Israel’s position on some of the issues that were raised in Egypt.
Israel won’t allow arms or dual use items to enter, Netanyahu said. Humanitarian aid, however, should enter Gaza.
Looking at the larger picture, he said, the issue of a demilitarized West Bank is one of the stumbling blocks in concluding a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
The West Bank must be demilitarized, otherwise tunnels will be built there and rockets will be launched from there as well, Netanyahu said.
People do not understand the danger from barbaric terrorist groups such as Islamic State, which has links to Hamas.
When making decisions with regard to Gaza, Netanyahu said, his sole concern is what is best for the citizens of Israel. He does not fall prey to pressure – not from the Right nor the Left, Netanyahu said.
The prime minister’s comments followed a long security cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on the developments in Gaza and how to go forward.
Meanwhile, in Paris, French President Francois Hollande called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume truce talks, and said the demilitarization of the enclave and a lifting of a blockade should be part of a deal.
“We are at a critical point. France supports the Egyptian mediation,” Hollande told Le Monde in an interview. “Gaza can no longer remain like it is. The objective must be a demilitarization and a lifting of the blockade.”
“Demilitarization can only be done under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. France with Europe can be useful in lifting the blockade at the Rafah crossing. Gaza must neither be an open prison nor a military base,” Hollande said.
Hollande said if negotiations failed then the international community would have to take the lead to find a solution.
“We must do everything to ensure negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority resume to find a solution to the conflict. We know the parameters, the only solution is two states living side by side,” he said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Doha on Wednesday and is to hold talks Thursday with the emir of Qatar and Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Mashaal, the Palestinian ambassador in Qatar said, according to AFP.
Reuters contributed to this report.