Bennett to ‘Post’: 95% chance of large Gaza military offensive in future

Yamina leader refuses to rule out backing retroactive immunity legislation for Netanyahu

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at the Defense Ministry on February 25, 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at the Defense Ministry on February 25, 2020.
There is a 95% chance that Israel will launch a large-scale military campaign to remove terrorist threats from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in the near future, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“I have come to the conclusion that there is a 95% chance it is inevitable that we will have to launch a large campaign to restart Gaza,” he said less than a day after nearly 100 rockets were fired into the South in the latest round of violence between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
“We are ready, and the plans have been formulated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the military,” Bennett said. “We will give one very last chance to the terrorists to maintain quiet. But I don’t believe them. They are liars, murderers, and we are going to have to act. It’s always a last resort to go to war. But this time it will be on our terms with our timing and with a very clear vision of the day after.”
Speaking to the Post in his office on the 14th floor of the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Bennett said as defense minister he is responsible for providing the people of the South “what they haven’t had for 20 years – sustainable peace and quiet.”
The most serious escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza terrorist groups since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014 took place last year. More than 1,500 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israel in 2019 from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the majority sent during three rounds of conflict with the blockaded coastal enclave.
“If Israelis in the South can’t sleep at night, terrorists in Damascus won’t sleep,” Bennett said, referring to airstrikes the IAF carried out Sunday night against PIJ targets, which he said killed eight terrorists near the Syrian capital city. “I want to give hope to the people of the South, to bring them quiet,” he said.
While Bennett did not provide a time line for when the campaign would begin, he hinted that he wanted Hamas to have a “painful spring.”
Addressing concerns that the IDF would have to wage a campaign on two fronts, in Gaza and Syria, simultaneously, Bennett said the IDF has experience fighting in two areas at the same time.
“The IDF knows how to act on two fronts at the same time,” he said. “But of course, strategically, you would prefer to deal with one front before the other. But we are prepared for it. And that’s one reason why we will choose the time.”
Bennett, who is marking 100 days as defense minister, told the Post the coming campaign would be “totally different” than past military campaigns, and once Gaza has been “reset,” there would be years of quiet.
It is not just the military operation that “will be completely different” from past campaigns, but the perspective of what Gaza will look like “the day after” will also be “completely different” than in the past, he said.
When asked what would be so different from past military campaigns in the Gaza Strip, Bennett gave a cryptic answer.
Turning to politics, Bennett was cautious when addressing the possibility that Netanyahu will try to pass legislation to retroactively grant himself immunity from prosecution over the three corruption cases in which he has been indicted.
The prime minister has given contradictory answers on the topic, saying in one interview this week, “We will cross that bridge when we get to it, then we’ll see what happens,” but ruling out the idea in a different one.
Bennett said he is supportive of the so-called “French law” for immunity against prosecution in general for politicians. He refused to rule out giving his backing to such legislation for Netanyahu.
“Generally, I am huge supporter of [the] French law, huge, because every prime minister since 1992 has had some form of allegations [against them] that made it difficult for them to function well,” Bennett said. “So unless we’re talking about something like murder or rape, I think we can defer all of this to after the prime minister’s term, because it’s in Israel’s interest.”
“Specifically, in this case we’re talking about retroactive application,” he said. “This is something that I would need to see the bill and make a decision. I’m not going to make a decision now. It will be based on the circumstances at that point.”
“If and when it comes to pass, I’ll make a decision,” Bennett said.
Yamina appears split on the issue, with Bennett’s political ally and fellow party founder Ayelet Shaked saying on Friday that she opposes retroactive legislation to grant Netanyahu immunity.
This week, Yamina MK and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, along with Yamina MK Ofir Sofer and party candidate Sarah Beck, declined to rule out backing retroactive immunity legislation for Netanyahu.
The full interview will appear in Friday’s Jerusalem Post.