The Israeli army is not planning to conquer the Gaza Strip if another war were to break out with Hamas, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said this week, in an apparent turnaround from his repeated insistence in previous years that reoccupying the territory was the only way to stop rocket fire.

Speaking to Channel 2 News in an interview broadcast Saturday night, Liberman said he had “absolutely no interest in conquering Gaza,” in the event of a serious flare-up on Israel’s southern border.

At the same time, if Israel is forced into another war with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which controls the Strip, it will be Hamas’s last war, Liberman warned.

“We go in and destroy all their terror infrastructure,” he said, but added that once the job is complete, “we will come out.”

Defense Minister and leader of Israel Beytenu party, Avigdor Liberman, leads the faction meeting at the Knesset on March 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Defense Minister and leader of Israel Beytenu party, Avigdor Liberman, leads the faction meeting at the Knesset on March 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The interview, which looked at the defense minister’s time in office since being appointed to the position a year ago, was broadcast just a day after a Hamas fighter was killed and six were wounded during clashes with IDF troops near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

But despite a number of small-scale incidents with Hamas, Liberman was emphatic that Israel has “enjoyed a year of quiet and calm in regards to security. The quietest year since 1967.”

In terms of turning that quiet into long-term tranquility, Liberman said that Israel was “closer than ever” to an agreement with the Palestinians and that the opportunity for full relations with Arab states would sway the Netanyahu government to accept a deal.

“We are far closer to an agreement than ever before,” Liberman told said. “I hope we will be able to realize this option.”

Liberman did not offer any details about the agreement on the table, referring to it only as an “arrangement,” but indicated US President Donald Trump’s administration had played a role in cobbling the pact together and that it would include other regional players.

When asked how the deal would come together, Liberman responded: “Because Trump has arrived on the scene and because, as I keep saying, the Arab countries have internalized that their problem is not Israel. Israel can be a solution to the problem.”

“If someone comes and puts a deal on the table that includes an agreement with all the moderate Arab states, including the opening of embassies, trade relations and direct flights, I believe that it will get an overwhelming majority in the Knesset and among the people,” he told Channel 2.

Asked what such a scenario depends upon, he said he would “leave that for the next interview,” and refused to further elaborate.

Liberman, who is scheduled to be interviewed next week at a Times of Israel Presents event, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was committed to working toward an elusive agreement.

“If you’re asking me whether Netanyahu is making every effort,” he added, “yes, he is. I can testify that he is making a great many efforts.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump seen at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter's departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump seen at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter’s departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Trump has been pushing Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks and has indicated that he would like help both sides reach “the ultimate deal.”

Liberman has long said he does not believe such a deal would be achievable in the foreseeable future.

LIBERMAN LIVE ON STAGE – IN ENGLISH
TLV International Salon and Times of Israel Presents Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman in conversation in English. Thursday, June 15, Hangar 11, Tel Aviv Port. Tickets here