Barak promises to restore quiet to South

'We will destroy Hamas and all our enemies,' defense minister says.

Barak Im gonna kill you 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak Im gonna kill you 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Hamas on Tuesday that Israel will "crush" and "smash" it if it continues to fire rockets on the South. "We will destroy Hamas and all our enemies. We will not accept the recent firing of rockets," he told a largely international audience at the ninth annual Herzliya Conference at the International Disciplinary Center, Herzliya. He struck a tough tone, hours after a Palestinian Grad-style Katyusha rocket hit Ashkelon for the first time since Israel's 22-day military operation in Gaza ended two-and-a-half weeks ago. "The Grad missile that fell won't pass without a response," Barak said. "Even as we speak here, the air force is acting in Gaza. We promised to restore calm to the residents of the South and we will keep our promises." Despite the continued rocket fire, Barak said Operation Cast Lead was successful. He described Tuesday's attack and the others launched from Gaza since the IDF offensive as the last volleys of a vanquished enemy. "Hamas was dealt a terrible blow. We know that the IDF can do it again if necessary," he said. Barak warned against rewriting history to make it seem as if Operation Cast Lead was a failure. "This was a great success and we are making a necessary and difficult effort to translate it into reality on the ground," he said. But make no mistake, he warned, should the rockets continue, Israel would not hesitate to strike Hamas again. "There is no doubt what the Israeli forces are capable of doing," he said. Barak explained the dangers posed by Hamas and defended the IDF operation in Gaza, which killed close to 1,300 Palestinians. Hamas claims most of the dead were civilians, whereas Israel says a majority were combatants. He blamed the Gaza civilian deaths on Hamas, which used them as human shields and their homes as launching pads. "We did not want to hurt them [civilians]. We do not fight against civilians," said Barak, who explained how the IDF had made calls and distributed leaflets warning residents to leave areas that it was about to attack. He thundered against accusations of war crimes that have been leveled against IDF soldiers by Arab and European politicians for their actions both in Gaza recently and against Palestinians in general. "We will not be taught morality by any of the countries in the region, not by Spain or anyone else," he said. "Those who seek to harm us will be harmed." With respect to St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006, Barak said Israel was obligated to do everything it could to secure his release. Operational Cast Lead coupled with Egyptians efforts have improved Schalit's chances of being released, said Barak, but he warned that it was too early to make promises in that regard. "In any event, the price will be heavy, but I am willing to bear it," he said. In evaluating the danger that Hamas posed, it was important to see it as just the advanced arm of regional enemies such as Iran, he said. A strategic understanding should be reached with the United States with respect to halting Iran's nuclear program. A clear deadline should be set if the United States chooses to pursue diplomatic means to stop Iran, followed by harsher economic sanctions that would also have a set time frame, Barak said. After that, "all options are on the table," he said. Barak also said he had not despaired of reaching a peace deal with Syria or the Palestinian Authority. He would like to see peace talks with the PA on the basis of the Saudi proposal, which calls for a return to the pre-1967 borders and a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. Barak said he did not agree with all the elements in the Saudi plan but that it offered a good basis for negotiations. "All diplomatic steps must be made in coordination with the United States," he said. Barak added that he was not among those who had misgivings about the new Obama administration.