Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday vowed to fight Hamas and other Gaza terror groups until Israel was safe from the threat of missile attack, and then launched a highly unusual and extremely bitter verbal assault on would-be peace-brokers, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, who have been urging Israel to relinquish security control of the West Bank to a Palestinian state.
Speaking to the Israeli public on the fourth day of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, which he said has seen Israel attack “over 1,000” terror targets while sustaining hundreds of rocket attacks from Gaza, Netanyahu vowed that the IDF campaign “will continue until we are sure that Israel’s residents have quiet.” He said that no terrorist target was off-limits, and accused Hamas’s leaders and gunmen of “hiding behind Gaza’s residents” — using them as human shields — and thus being responsible “for any harm that comes to them.”
While Israel did everything to protect its citizens, he said, and had “spent billions to protect the homefront” in recent years, Gaza’s terror groups deliberately put Gazans “in harm’s way.” Israel does its utmost not to harm Gaza’s civilians while targeting the terrorists, whereas Hamas targets Israel’s civilians, he said.
Netanyahu said he had made this point in conversations with a series of world leaders, including Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, in recent days, and that all the world leaders with whom he spoke understood Israel’s imperative to act. “No state would allow its citizens to be targeted without a harsh response,” he said.
He also vowed that “no international pressure will prevent us from acting with all force against a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy us” and that he would take whatever action was necessary to protect Israelis.
He said he had encountered “lots of good will” from world leaders, and that he had asked them, “Would you tolerate missile attacks on London, Washington, Paris, Berlin and Moscow? Of course not.”
Asked if he was interested in a ceasefire, Netanyahu said, “We are in the midst of a struggle” and that it would end only when his goal of guaranteed, long-term calm had been achieved.
He praised the success of the Iron Dome missile defense system — which has intercepted about 100 Gaza rockets heading into residential areas this week — calling it “an immense asset” and “proof of Israel’s technological supremacy.” And he said his ultimate goal was to protect all of Israel from missiles of all ranges. He praised Israelis’ resilience, as most of the country has found itself within the range of Hamas’s extended missile capabilities over the past few days.
Departing from his prepared text to take questions, Netanyahu said Israel was “weighing all possibilities” for expanding the campaign against Hamas in Gaza, including the possibility of a major ground offensive. “We’ve prepared for all options… That’s what I told the army to do, and it has done so… My uppermost consideration is to restore quiet for all of Israel’s citizens in all of Israel’s cities. I will do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. Beyond that, I cannot go into details.”
At present, Hamas continues to attack, he noted. “You see it. You hear it. You all live it,” he said. “Five million Israelis are in rocket range right now. So when they fight us, we fight them.”
Indeed, precisely as Netanyahu was speaking, Hamas launched a rocket barrage at central Israel, apparently seeking to embarrass him. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Netanyahu then expanded the scope of his press conference to talk about the rise of Islamic extremism across the Middle East. He said Israel finds itself in a region “that is being seized by Islamic extremism. It is bringing down countries, many countries. It is knocking on our door, in the north and south. We will defend ourselves on every front, defensively and offensively. Nobody should mess with us.”
While other states were collapsing, said Netanyahu, Israel was not — because of the strength of its leadership, its army and its people.
He then used the dangers posed by Hamas in Gaza to underline his opposition to security concessions urged by Kerry and the international community in the West Bank. Since Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, a move he opposed, Hamas had created a terrorist bunker there. “So we have to take care of Hamas.”
But at the same time, Israel had to ensure that “we don’t get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria” — the biblical name for the West Bank.
Amid the current conflict, he elaborated, “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan” — a reference to the Jordan Valley and the West Bank — as Kerry had urged during a US-led peace effort that collapsed in April.
Citing by name both Kerry and the US security adviser Gen. John Allen, who was charged by the secretary of state to draw up security proposals that the US argued could enable Israel to withdraw from most of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu said passionately, “I told John Kerry and General Allen, the Americans’ expert: We live here, I live here, I know what we need to ensure the security of Israel’s people.”
He said the current conflict also underlined the importance of retaining territory, noting that Hamas had tunneled relentlessly under Gaza’s borders with both Egypt, for smuggling purposes, and Israel, for terrorism purposes. “If we were to pull out of Judea and Samaria, like they tell us to, there’d be a possibility of thousands of tunnels” being dug by terrorists to attack Israel, he said. There were 1,200 tunnels dug in a 14-kilometer stretch between Egypt and Gaza alone, which Egypt had sealed, he noted.
“Adjacent territory has huge importance,” Netanyahu said, and could be used by terrorists to dig tunnels and to fire rockets. The closer terrorists can get to Israel’s borders, he said, the more rockets they fire — as the current conflict was proving.
“At present we have a problem with the territory called Gaza,” the prime minister said. But he noted that the West Bank is 20 times the size of Gaza, and vowed that he was not prepared “to create another 20 Gazas” in the West Bank.