Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Hamas “completely” in a future war, but told the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper in an interview published Monday that Israel has no interest in initiating a new offensive in Gaza.
The hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party leader told the Arabic newspaper that Israel would be the first to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, lift the blockade and build crucial economic infrastructure in the Palestinian territory — such as a seaport and airport and industrial zones — if rocket launches, attack tunnels and gun running were to stop.
Israeli officials have expressed support for helping construct a seaport in the Gaza Strip, so long as there’s Israeli oversight to prevent the import of weapons to the Palestinian enclave.
Liberman’s remarks were published the same day rocket sirens sounded along the Gaza border after a rocket was fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave.
If Israel is forced into another war with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, it will be Hamas’s last war, Liberman warned: “We will destroy it completely.”
At the same time, he said, Israel has no interest in reconquering the Gaza Strip, which it evacuated civilians and troops from in 2005 in a unilateral withdrawal. That comment was an apparent turnaround from his repeated insistence in previous years that the only way to stop rocket fire was for Israel to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.
Liberman charged that Hamas has invested over half a billion dollars in military infrastructure in Gaza in recent years, while reconstruction of Palestinian homes destroyed in the 2014 war with Israel has moved at a snail’s pace. The defense minister denied there was direct dialog between Israel and Hamas.
In the interview he voiced support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and restated his advocacy of a controversial “transfer” of Israeli Arab towns, including Umm al-Fahm, to a future Palestinian state, while Israel would keep major settlement blocs in the West Bank. If the residents of Umm al-Fahm, a large Arab town in northern Israel, “regard themselves as Palestinians, let them live in a Palestinian state,” he said. Current West Bank settlement construction was being done within the confines of existing blocs, he also said.
Liberman criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not making difficult decisions and striking a final peace deal with Israel, and for presiding over a corrupt hierarchy. If Palestinian elections were held today, he said, “[Abbas] would be deposed.”
The defense minister’s comments largely echoed those made by an unnamed Israeli defense official in June of this year. Speaking to reporters earlier this year, shortly after Liberman took office in a cabinet reshuffle, the official said Israel does not seek another war, but says “Hamas is a growing threat” and conflict was inevitable.
The official also lambasted Abbas as the “number one problem for Israel,” saying he wasn’t interested in peace with Israel.