The Israeli government should examine the option of re-occupying the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory if it wishes to eliminate the threat of another round of attacks on major Israeli cities, MK Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s influential former foreign minister, said Monday.
“Israel will have to seriously consider the option of conquering all of Gaza and really cleaning it out. I’m not sure we want to live with that situation, but in the long term it’s inevitable,” Liberman told Israel Radio.
At least six rockets were launched from the Strip into southern Israel late Sunday night and early Monday, shattering months of quiet and prompting Israel to launch airstrikes against two weapons storage facilities and a rocket-launching site, the IDF Spokesperson’s office said.
While he acknowledged that those rockets were not fired by Hamas, which has attempted to thwart such attacks following an Egypt-brokered peace treaty in the wake of last year’s Operation Pillar of Defense, the Yisrael Beytenu party chief said that the rulers of the Strip had “no intention of recognizing Israel, so there is no choice.”
If Israel does not respond “more significantly, in two years there will be Hamas missiles aimed at Tel Aviv and Netanya,” Liberman said, noting that he was unsure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s position on the issue.
Liberman, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is a former foreign minister who resigned from his position after he was indicted on corruption charges. Netanyahu has promised to restore him as Israel’s top diplomat if he is acquitted of the allegations.
MK Zahava Gal-on of Meretz said in response that Liberman was a “warmonger.” She accused him of political irresponsibility, and called on the prime minister to “dampen the fighting spirit of his coalition.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his guiding principle in determining a response to rocket fire was “the ability of Jews to defend themselves.”
Speaking at a dedication for a school in the West Bank settlement of Barkan that will be named for his later father, the prime minister said, “Yesterday rockets were fired on our communities, and our response was immediate.”
“My policy is to harm anyone who tries to harm us,” he added. “This is how we will continue to treat threats from near and far.”
On Monday morning, Ya’alon ordered the closure of the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings to Gaza, in response to the rocket fire.
There were no reports of injuries or damage in the attack. Four of the rockets exploded in fields near Netivot and the Bnei Shimon region, west of Beersheba. The Iron Dome system intercepted two of the projectiles, believed to have been Grad rockets. Sirens were also heard near the Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev and in the Ashkelon Regional Council.
The IDF said that the rockets had likely been launched from the northern Gaza Strip.
The IDF was looking into the possibility that the rockets were launched by radical Salafist fighters who do not recognize Hamas rule, or as an act of defiance by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, which earlier Sunday announced that it was suspending ties with the ruling Hamas government following the execution of one of its members.
Asher Zeiger and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.