While Israel is intent on restoring quiet to southern communities, it is determined to act “calmly and responsibly,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday following several days of rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli retaliatory airstrikes.
“The goal of all our actions is to restore peace and security to all Israeli citizens, especially residents of the south,” Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “Experience has proved that in moments like these it is best to act calmly and responsibly and not with bluster and rashness. We will do everything necessary to restore quiet and security to the south.”
Israel Air Force jets struck 10 “terror sites” in the central and southern Gaza Strip overnight Saturday following escalated rocket barrages on Israeli communities in recent days, including a salvo of rockets aimed at Beersheba on Saturday, one of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Late Saturday, the air force failed in an attempt to assassinate a high-level “terror target” in Gaza, according to Hebrew media reports. Israeli jets fired at an individual in the southern part of the Strip who was allegedly responsible for the spike in rocket and mortar attacks on southern towns in recent days. The unnamed individual was reportedly wounded, but not killed.
On Saturday evening, Hamas upped its rhetoric, threatening to reach “all” of Israel’s cities with its rockets.
Netanyahu held urgent consultations Saturday evening with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and the heads of the security services. He said Israel was hitting Hamas targets in response to the rocket fire, and would use additional force if necessary.
While Netanyahu indicated that he favored restraint over a broader operation against Gaza, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) warned earlier in the day that if the attacks from the Gaza Strip persist, Israel would have no choice but to escalate its response.
“There is almost no way to bring down an organization or government like Hamas; it’s impossible to destroy an ideology and it’s impossibly to destroy fanaticism,” said Peri, who is a former chief of the Shin Bet security service. He noted, however, that “Operation Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense brought a period of quiet to Israel, and if there is no other way, then we will have to take actions I did not not previously support.”
Also speaking at the opening of the cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said that Hamas would face “the brunt of the IDF’s power… if quiet is not restored to the south.” He also castigated fellow ministers for acting like “talkbackers.”
“We must put out the fire, not make it bigger,” he said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “We must not let extremists run the State of Israel.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) praised the government’s policy of restraint, saying in an interview on Israel Radio that in this case, “restraint means strength.”
In contrast, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir (Likud-Beytenu) slammed the government, contending that it had shown weakness in not hitting the Gaza Strip harder, thus leading to the recent escalation.
“The government’s job is to provide security to its citizens, and if it does not know how, then it should be replaced,” he said Sunday on Israel Radio.
Netanyahu, in his comments at the start of the cabinet meeting, also addressed riots over the weekend in Arab Israeli towns, calling on leaders of Arab communities to help restore calm and warning that rioters would be arrested and face harsh punishments.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You cannot with the one hand take social security payments and child benefits while violating Israel’s basic laws on with the other.”
Peri, like Lapid, castigated MKs and ministers who made inflammatory remarks following the killing of three Israeli teens on June 12, which led to recent unrest.
He said that irresponsible, inflammatory statements brought Israel close to “the line where the system of relationships and coexistence within the State of Israel will reach a boiling point that neither the Israeli government, nor the police or army can handle.”
Violent protests continued into the early morning hours of Sunday in Jerusalem as angry Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli police at multiple sites in the capital. In some of the worst such violence in years, there was also a spate of attacks on Jewish targets in the city, though with no immediate reports of serious injuries, as well as clashes in the Galilee.
The protests have been escalating for days, since the brutal kidnapping and murder last Wednesday of a Palestinian teenager, which police increasingly believe was carried out by Jewish extremists in retaliation for the killing of the three Jewish teenagers, allegedly by a Hebron-based Hamas cell.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.