(July 20, 2018 / JNS) Unless Hamas curbs its arson terrorism and border-riots campaign, Israel may have no choice but to launch a full-fledged military operation in the Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on Friday.
Lieberman made that statement while touring the city of Sderot, 1.5 miles from Gaza, saying that Israel must maintain the deterrence generated against Hamas.
“We are handling things with restraint and responsibility, but the real problem is the erosion in deterrence and the loss of the residents’ sense of security.
“Hamas is leading us down a path of inevitability, where we would have to launch a wide-scale operation in Gaza that will be much more painful [for them] than ‘Operation Protective Edge.’ Hamas is solely responsible for this,” he said.
Lieberman stressed that while “there are no direct talks with Hamas” Israel is “dealing with all the relevant elements.” The defense minister was most likely referring to Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been trying to broker a sustainable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas since last weekend.
Gaza-based terrorists fired 200 projectiles on Israeli communities near the border on Saturday, triggering a forceful Israeli response that pounded dozens of Hamas assets in the coastal enclave.
Egypt was able to broker a tenuous truce, but while Palestinian rocket fire largely ceased, the arson attacks in the form of incendiary kites and balloons that have been scorching thousands of acres of forest and farmlands in the area for three months continued to rage on.
Commenting on Saturday’s bombing in Gaza, Lieberman said the Israeli Air Force “dropped nearly 50 tons of bombs on strategic Hamas positions. I think they got the message and if they didn’t, we’ll continue.”
Speaking of the simmering tensions on the border, which some hedged this week were nearing boiling point, he said “we’ve all seen the reports and heard that kites and fires are no reason to launch a war, but anyone looking around at the thousands of acres of burned fields understands this is not a reasonable situation. We are acting responsibly, but we will not tolerate a situation where residents here have to run to [bomb] shelters 20 times a day.”
Lieberman reiterated that “if Hamas leaves us no choice, we will have to launch a military operation in Gaza. And it won’t be for show; it will be painful.”
He urged the residents of Gaza to pressure Hamas to curb terrorist attack and prevent further security escalation.
“Hamas leaders are responsible for this situation, but unfortunately, ordinary Gazans will end up paying the price. This is why I call on them to pressure Hamas to choose another direction. We can resume reasonable civilian reality and offer [Gaza] economic aid in exchange for the complete termination of terrorism and the provocations on the [security] fence,” said Lieberman.
The defense minister also addressed the criticism heard from several cabinet members over the military’s alleged hesitance to launch an incursion of Gaza, saying, “I speak with residents [in Gaza-vicinity communities] daily, and I’ve never heard one criticism of the IDF. There’s a lot of criticism of the government, which is more than understandable, but not of the military.”