Likud minister Gilad Erdan, a member of Israel’s key decision-making security cabinet, said Thursday morning that Israel is not seeking a ceasefire in the conflict with Hamas at present, and that the IDF first needs to complete its ground offensive, with its focus on finding and destroying Hamas’s network of cross-border tunnels.
Dealing with the tunnels “will take another week or two,” said Erdan, the minister of communications. After that, he said, if Hamas was still firing rockets into the country, Israel would have to decide whether to send the army deeper into Gaza to find the Hamas leadership “hiding in its holes.”
He said Israel’s key goal was to have Gaza demilitarized at the end of the conflict, “otherwise what would have been the point.” Israel was also very supportive of the subsequent rehabilitation of Gaza, he said. He cited the removal of chemical weapons from Syria as a possible model, and hailed the demand by EU ministers, in a statement on Tuesday, for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to be disarmed.
Asked about Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal’s declaration on Wednesday that Hamas would only disarm if Israel did, Erdan said, “I don’t pay any attention to what he says.”
Erdan said Israel had “known for years” about Hamas’s underground tunnel network, but that while Iron Dome offered a technological solution to the rockets — over 2,000 of which have been fired by Hamas at Israel in the past 17 days — there is no such solution to the tunnels, “apart from the ground offensive, whose complexity we are all aware of.”
He refused to comment on how specific Israel’s intelligence had been on the tunnels, including as to whether it was recognized that Hamas had dug directly under Gaza-envelope kibbutzim and moshavim. Israel faces threats “all the time,” he said. For instance, it knows that Hezbollah in south Lebanon has 80,000 better missiles — more accurate, longer range, carrying heavier warheads — than Hamas. “That doesn’t mean we get up every morning and attack Hezbollah,” he said. Rather, Israel “acts in many areas” to grapple with the threats.
Asked to comment on reports that residents of northern Israel have heard digging noises under their homes, possibly suggesting Hezbollah tunneling activity, Erdan declined comment.
Hamas terrorists have penetrated into Israel through at least five cross-border tunnels in recent days, sparking deadly clashes with Israeli troops on the Israeli side of the border. Israeli military officials say Hamas sought to attack kibbutzim and moshavim in the area, and that some of the tunnels run directly beneath homes and residential areas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that such attacks could have had “catastrophic” consequences for Israel.
Six IDF soldiers have been killed by Hamas gunmen surfacing from such tunnels during Operation Protective Edge. Some 20 terrorists were killed by IDF forces shortly after emerging from the tunnels during the incidents.