Bibi: If PM can't fix Gaza, he should go

Netanyahu backs Olmert on Iran but tells 'Post' that Hamas regime will eventually have to be toppled.

bibi netanyahu frank 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bibi netanyahu frank 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel will ultimately have to "bring down" the Hamas regime in Gaza, and this can done in a way that does not necessitate a permanent return to the Strip, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has told The Jerusalem Post. In a Pessah interview, Netanyahu accused the Olmert government of failing the people of Israel by tolerating the relentless attacks out of Gaza, and said the IDF knew exactly how to counter the violence but was being prevented from doing so by "a failure of the political leadership." The Post reported Thursday that according to assessments in Jerusalem, a major IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip to significantly weaken Hamas - similar but more difficult than Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002 - would not take place until about a month or a month-and-a-half after US President George W. Bush's planned visit here in mid-May. By then, the last of the world's leaders to have come here to celebrate the state's 60th anniversary would have left. The timing would also place the incursion in the middle of summer, considered an optimal time for this type of operation. Netanyahu said that handling "a terrorist enclave" was "not that difficult... The first thing is to deprive [the enemy] of sanctuary and the second is to increase the cost to the point of bringing down the regime. Change the rules of the game. It shouldn't be an incremental tit for tat - that they kill a few of our people and we kill a few of theirs." Asked whether what he meant by this was killing more Hamas people, he said: "I say we have to go from attrition to deterrence, and if necessary to bring down the regime - and ultimately, I believe it will be necessary... there will be others who will rise to fill the vacuum. But we cannot tolerate the current situation. No country would suffer this." At the same time, Netanyahu cautioned against depriving the Gaza population of basic necessities. Even though such a move would be "very popular," he said, "it is not clear that that is the best way to do it, and I would not do that." If the Olmert government did not know how to stop the Gaza attacks, he urged, "let them clear the way for people who can do it a lot better. It's unacceptable what is happening in Gaza. The [government] might think this is the best possible government. Tell it to the residents of Ashkelon, Sderot, soon of Ashdod. Most Israelis understand this is unacceptable, and most [foreign] governments I talk to can't begin to fathom why Israel is not using the vast power it has to stop it." Netanyahu was blisteringly critical of numerous aspects of government policy - notably including the push for a "shelf agreement" with Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority that would be implemented only when conditions allowed, which he said risked giving "everything away" and would see the creation, after southern Lebanon and Gaza, of "a third Iranian base here." He said the shelf agreement was being pursued not because of American government pressure, but because of the Olmert government's misguided decision. "I don't think this American administration would lean on Israel to do something [that Israel] didn't intend to do in the first place," he said. But Netanyahu was thoroughly supportive of the government's position on Teheran's nuclear program. "On Iran, you won't hear a partisan position from me, because there is none," he said. "There is no coalition or opposition on the nature of the Iranian nuclear threat and the need to roll it back. There is complete unanimity and cooperation between the prime minister and myself." Asked whether, if all else failed, Israel could live with a nuclear Iran, he said: "Our policy should be that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons, period," and "we still have time to ensure that it doesn't happen." Netanyahu said he disagreed with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert "on most issues: political, security, economic policy, education..." But he reserved his most stinging critique for the government's handling of Iranian-backed terrorism in general and the Gaza crisis in particular. "The unilateral retreat from Lebanon [in 2000] immeasurably strengthened Hizbullah and produced an Iranian base north of the country, from which they launched 4,000 rockets [in 2006's Second Lebanon War]," he said. "That base is arming itself feverishly now, with 40,000 mostly Iranian missiles of greater range and payloads, which is almost three times what they had before the war. "The same policy of unilateral retreat from Gaza that Olmert advocated produced the immeasurable strengthening of Hamas, leading them ultimately to overtake Gaza, giving them a second Iranian base, from which, since the disengagement, they fired 4,000 rockets as well. That base, too, is being armed feverishly, as we predicted," he went on. "These two failures should have made people stop in their tracks before they offered to make a third base here [in the West Bank], which is essentially what the government is doing." He said the government was pretending that Abbas "has a supermarket and they could buy a product called 'Peace' on the shelf. In that supermarket, Israel pays in advance and gets nothing in return, but an Iranian base and more rockets and terror. "The public is being told it's all or nothing. You either give everything away or give nothing away. Both courses are unwise and dangerous," he said. Netanyahu urged the development of what he called "an economic peace" with those Palestinians who want it, while retaining security control of the West Bank. In Gaza, he said, "ultimately, we will have to bring down the Hamas regime." Netanyahu noted President Hosni Mubarak said a week ago that Egypt now had "a common border with Iran." But Egypt's population centers were 200 kilometers away, he pointed out. "Israelis cities and towns literally touch the [Gaza] border. We have a much more dangerous border and ultimately, over time, we let this happen."