Minister Benny Begin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “inner forum” of nine ministers, on Tuesday assessed that the current round of cross-border violence with terror factions in Gaza had come to a close.
Speaking with Israel Radio after a special deliberation of top-level ministers, Begin called on the government to exercise restraint, saying, “We have to take into account that the issues are more complex than some people believe.”
Begin noted that Hamas was affiliated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a link that contributed to the complexity of the situation, and rejected the idea of talking to Hamas in order to ensure a lasting cessation of hostilities.
“Hamas is a terror organization that calls for the destruction of Israel, and we must not conduct negotiations with them,” he said, adding that Israel had in the past reached short-term ceasefires with the leaders of the Gaza Strip.
Maariv reported that Egypt had threatened to recall its new ambassador in Tel Aviv, Atef Salem, if Israel embarked on a ground operation in Gaza.
Before the meeting, with talk mounting of a possible Israeli ground operation against terror factions in Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo in the headquarters of the IDF’s Gaza Division, and vowed to respond forcefully to rocket attacks from the Strip.
The defense minister stopped short of explicitly mentioning a ground operation, but asserted that Israel would decide “when and by what means to restore our deterrence. Hamas is responsible for what’s been going on, and it won’t emerge unscathed from recent events.”
Cross-border violence continued Tuesday morning, for the fourth straight day, as Palestinians fired a rocket at southern Israel and Israel Air Force jets struck rocket launching sites and a weapons warehouse in the Strip. The rocket slammed into an open area outside the coastal city of Ashdod, but did not cause casualties or damage.
As of Tuesday morning, over 160 rockets and mortar shells had hit Israel since Saturday. More than 40 Israelis were reported lightly injured, mostly suffering from shock and light shrapnel injuries. Palestinian sources on Tuesday morning said a terrorist had died of wounds sustained in an IAF airstrike on Sunday, bringing the number of dead in Gaza to seven. Palestinians say four of those killed since Saturday were civilians.
A volley of Grad rockets was fired at towns in the south just after nightfall on Monday, with a number landing near Beersheba, Netivot and Ofakim. Two rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system near Ofakim. Three rockets landed in open areas near Sderot before 10 p.m. No injuries or damage were reported in those attacks.
Earlier in the day, 26 people were treated for shock after a direct hit on a home in Netivot. A second missile hit a factory in the city’s industrial zone in the afternoon.
On Tuesday morning, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar hinted that a more comprehensive Israeli response to the rocket attacks was in the offing.
“Anyone with eyes in his head” can see that a ground operation in the Gaza Strip was near at hand, Sa’ar said. In an interview with Israel Radio, the minister, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet, reiterated that increasingly frequent bouts of cross-border violence in recent months were creating an untenable situation.
“The cabinet will choose the timing responsibly and level-headedly,” Sa’ar said, noting that any cease-fire agreement with Gaza would be fragile due to the whims of a multiplicity of factions that did not feel obligated to comply with Hamas’s instructions.
“We can’t remain dependent on each and every terror cell, and we have to make the other side realize that there are painful repercussions to the firing of rockets at Israel,” he said.
MK Nahman Shai, who is vying for a spot on the Labor Party’s Knesset list for the upcoming elections, called for a diplomatic solution, including, “perhaps in the future, direct talks with Hamas.”
Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin announced that the Knesset, which is currently in recess, would convene on Thursday for a special session to deliberate recent developments along the border with Gaza.
On Monday, Netanyahu started taking steps to shore up international support for a possible military ground operation into Gaza that would aim to quell the ongoing rocket fire from the strip.
“The world must understand that Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens,” he told some 50 ambassadors in Ashkelon. “We will not sit idly in front of recurrent attacks that occur almost daily, against our citizens and our children. More than one million citizens have to live in a reality where within 15 or 30 seconds they need to find shelter against terrorists who shoot at civilians, while the terrorists themselves hide behind civilians. That’s a double war crime.
“None of your governments would accept such a situation,” he said. “We do not accept such a situation, and I, as prime minister of Israel, am not prepared to accept this situation, and we will act to stop it.”
Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz met with Netanyahu Monday night to present him with their assessment of a possible military escalation against the Gaza Strip.
President Shimon Peres told CNN that Israel was not seeking an escalation of hostilities, but would do whatever was necessary to protect its citizens.
“No country in the world would agree to it — without exception,” Peres said. “[The Israeli government] shall try to stop it by all the means we can mobilize and use… we don’t think that we’re defenseless.”
He added that the international community should cut off funding to Hamas as long as it remained belligerent.
The rocket fire began on Saturday night, touched off by an Israeli airstrike that followed an attack on an Israeli jeep patrolling near the border that left four soldiers injured.