Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday evening said the IDF should reoccupy the Gaza Strip in response to an ongoing, massive rocket bombardment of southern Israel, and said that the Israeli government must defend its citizens even if it jeopardized peace talks with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not endorse his foreign minister’s demand, however. Asked at a joint press conference with Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron if he backed the reconquest of the Strip, Netanyahu said that “if there is no quiet in our south, no quiet for the residents of Israel, there will be noise, lots of noise in Gaza.”
At the same press conference, Cameron condemned the rocket fire, and also warned that a Palestinian state “cannot be a basis for terror.”
Israel’s political leaders were late Wednesday weighing a response to the rocket onslaught, having been presented with “a range of options” by security chiefs, military sources said.
Liberman told Channel 2 that Israel could not abide the firing of dozens of rockets at civilian targets in a single day, and added that the IDF was prepared to take immediate action in order to eradicate the threat of rocket fire from the Strip.
“There is no way to avert a full occupation of the Gaza Strip; only then can we ensure that these images do not recur,” the foreign minister said. “We cannot ignore such an attack, a barrage of 50 rockets and mortar shells.”
Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for the attacks, put the number at 90 rockets.
Liberman insisted that only a full-scale military invasion of Gaza could sufficiently counter the threat, and stressed that he would not accept a more minor operation across the border.
“I will vote against any limited operation,” he said. “They have [arms] caches, stashes for thousands of missiles, and every day they intensify their efforts,” the foreign minister said, referring to Gaza-based terror groups.
He said the IDF should immediately retake the Strip, which Israel left unilaterally in 2005, dismantling its settlements there and forcibly evacuating some 7,000 settlers. Hamas violently seized power there in 2007, forcing out Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. Liberman said once Israel had reined in and disarmed Gaza’s extremist elements, it should coordinate with Egypt on the future control of the area.
The foreign minister said he viewed the rocket barrage as a case of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad signaling to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who spoke in the Knesset shortly before the attack, that “we’re on the map” and “we’ll prevent any agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians.
Asked whether he would push for military action even at the expense of peace talks with the Palestinians in the West Bank, Liberman said that the security of Israel’s citizens outweighed concerns over the success of the diplomatic process.
“No sovereign state can accept a situation wherein its citizens are not secure,” the foreign minister stated. “There is no price too high to pay in ensuring that the citizens of Israel stay protected… Without security for the people of Israel, no agreement has any value.”
No Israeli casualties were initially reported in what has been the largest rocket barrage from the Strip since Operation Pillar of Defense in late 2012.
Most of the rockets were reported to have fallen in open areas, though at least one rocket landed in a residential neighborhood. Damage was reported in two impact sites.
IAF jets were reportedly flying over the Strip, apparently in an effort to thwart further rocket launches, and tanks fired shells at several targets in the coastal territory.
The army said some of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.
Officers in the southern command convened Wednesday evening to discuss possible responses to the attack.
Meanwhile, security agencies in the Strip evacuated their headquarters for fear of Israeli reprisal, Sky News reported.
Islamic Jihad indicated that the attack was in retaliation for the Tuesday killing at the hands of the IDF of three Islamic Jihad operatives as they prepared to fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
“The Al-Quds Brigades responded to (Israeli) aggression with a volley of rockets,” the group said in a statement Wednesday, minutes after the rocket attack.
Immediately following the rocket attack, Netanyahu said Israel would forcefully respond to any threat on its citizens.
“It seems that the rocket fire came in response to our counter-terrorism operations yesterday,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to thwart and harm those who wish to harm us, and we will act against them with great intensity.
“Last year, the number of rockets fired from Gaza was the lowest in a decade, but we will not settle for that. We will continue to ensure the security of Israeli citizens in the south and throughout the country.”
Last week, Israel intercepted what it said was an Iranian shipment of rockets intended for terror groups in Gaza. Israeli military sources said the arms, including 409 rockets, were destined for Islamic Jihad.
AFP and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report