Israel held an official ceremony marking a year since last summer’s war with Gaza and memorializing 67 soldiers killed in the fighting, with President Reuven Rivlin warning that the next confrontation with Palestinian fighters in the Strip would be even tougher.
Speaking to mourners at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery Monday, Rivlin warned that a new conflict would be inevitable if sporadic rocket fire from the Strip was not stemmed.
“The next conflict will be even more difficult than the last. It is clear that such a conflict will require a decisive and difficult decision,” he said. “When there is no fire towards Sderot, Nahal Oz, Nir Banim, Ashdod or Ashkelon — then there will be no fire towards the Gaza Strip,” he continued.
The memorial, marking one year since the start of the 50-day conflict, was also attended by the country’s top political and military leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
Netanyahu echoed Rivlin’s warnings of a harsh Israeli response to acts of terrorism. “I say to all enemies of Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Islamic State, too — whoever tries to harm us, their blood is upon their heads,” he said in his address.
Netanyahu asserted that Operation Protective Edge hurt Hamas worse than ever before and said that Israel was “prepared to act with force when necessary,” in response to Gazan rocket fire.
When asked by a journalist how he felt on the one-year anniversary of the war, Netanyahu answered, “I think we achieved something significant.”
Rivlin said the relentless rocket fire by Hamas militants from the coastal enclave towards Israel’s southern cities in the weeks leading up to last summer’s hostilities forced Israel into the “moral” 50-day war against the Islamist group.
“We are not a people of war, but if forced to take up arms to defend our borders and our existence, we will not hesitate to do so,” the president added.
Referring to intermittent rocket fire from Gaza in recent weeks, Rivlin went on to say that Israel “cannot continue to be held hostage by an enemy that operates in the heart of their civilian population. An enemy that does not respect human rights, that does not respect human life, an enemy that scorns international law and democracy.”
The president also noted the psychological effects the war continued to have on many Israelis. One year on, Rivlin said that for the Israel Defense Forces soldiers who still struggle with injuries and the families who lost loved ones, the war had not yet ended.
“We are still waiting to see the return of two of our sons — Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul, and Lt. Hadar Goldin,” Rivlin said of the two IDF soldiers whose remains have been kept by Hamas, likely as leverage for future negotiations with Israel.
“We shall not rest until we bring them for burial in Israel,” he added.
Netanyahu also assured the families of Shaul and Goldin that the government would spare “no effort” to return the bodies to Israel for burial.
Rivlin said that while the reconstruction of the Palestinian territory devastated by IDF airstrikes was in Israel’s best interest, it could only proceed on the “sole condition” that attacks against Israel are brought to an end.