A meeting of the security cabinet on Thursday evening ended without word on a possible ground operation in the Gaza Strip, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “more stages” could be expected in Operation Protective Edge, which began overnight Monday.
“Until now, the operation has been going as planned, but there are more stages ahead,” Netanyahu said in a statement after the meeting. “Until now, we have dealt a heavy blow to Hamas and the terrorists, and the longer the operation goes on, the deeper we will strike them.”
He thanked the IDF, the Shin Bet and other security forces “in the name of all Israeli citizens” for their “professional, dedicated and precise” actions in Gaza, adding: “They make every effort to avoid harming civilians, and if innocents are hurt, it is because Hamas maliciously hides behind Palestinian citizens.”
Netanyahu said that in the three days of the operation, the IDF and other security forces had “successfully” thwarted “many” attempts to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, “but we still have a difficult, complex and complicated struggle ahead of us.”
He then called on Israeli citizens to continue to show “civilian fortitude” in the face of rocket attacks.
“Civilian fortitude is a central component in our ability to continue the operation until we finish the job and restore quiet and security to Israel’s cities,” Netanyahu said.
Reports of a possible ground assault picked up Thursday when Israel warned thousands of Gazans residing near the border to evacuate their homes.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon echoed Netanyahu’s words, saying that the military had dealt a heavy blow to Hamas and other terrorist organizations operating in the Gaza Strip, with hundreds of targets destroyed and dozens of terrorists killed.
“We will continue to strike Hamas and extract a heavy price for everything it has been doing in the past few days,” he said, also echoing the prime minister’s words of appreciation for the IDF and the Shin Bet for operating in “sea, land and air” to attack terrorists and defend Israel from their attempts to strike it.
Ya’alon, too, praised Israeli citizens for their resilience and attentiveness to Home Front Command instructions, which he said was instrumental in preventing casualties.
“We embarked on Operation Protective Edge in the south, and this time our adversaries are Hamas and the other terrorist organization that are trying to strike deep inside Israeli territory, at any range and by any means — land, sea, air and so forth,” he said. “We will strike wherever we need to strike, defend wherever we need to defend.”
Air Force chief Amir Eshel, meanwile, said the air force was playing an active, “serious” role both in striking terror-related targets and defending Israel from attacks.
Praising the IDF’s Southern Command, the Israeli intelligence community and the Shin Bet for their work, Eshel said the airstrikes in the Gaza Strip were being carried out in “complex” conditions.
“We have dropped hundreds of tons of munitions on terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip in a very complex environment, with [terrorists] using civilians as human shields, and we are taking unique measures to avoid harming non-combatants as much as possible,” he said.
Regarding the Iron Dome missile defense system and the Air Force’s efforts to shoot down incoming rockets, Eshel said most rockets had been intercepted before they could hit areas within Israel.
“We can’t promise a success rate of 100 percent in intercepting the rockets, but these fighters are professionals,” he said, referring to the troops manning the Iron Dome batteries.
Both Ya’alon and Eshel said the offensive would continue until the objectives set forth by the government were reached.