Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday indicated he is not opposed to the building of a port in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, on the condition that Israel check all the shipments entering or exiting the coastal enclave.
In a briefing to military correspondents, Netanyahu also said that Israel’s high-level security cabinet met eight times on the tunnel threat from the Gaza Strip before the outbreak of the 2014 summer war.
“Operation Protective Edge was not the Second Lebanon War,” Netanyahu said. “The claim that we were not prepared and we didn’t know about the tunnels is the opposite of the truth.”
The prime minister, who has been repeatedly criticized by coalition partner Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party for purportedly failing to prepare Israeli forces effectively to tackle Hamas’s terror tunnels, insisted the security cabinet discussed the tunnels as far back as January 2013, and repeatedly over the next year and a half.
He also told reporters discussions on a Gaza port were ongoing, and would be conditional, requiring Israeli oversight over all shipments to ensure no materials that could be used for terror attacks on Israelis would fall into the hands of Hamas. Hamas has long demanded a sea port and other easing of the security blockade Israel and Egypt impose on Gaza, a blockade designed to prevent Hamas, an Islamist terror group avowedly committed to destroying Israel, from importing weaponry.
The prime minister praised Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who took office in May, saying he was doing an “excellent job.”
Netanyahu also said Monday that he does not regret his phone conversation with Charlie Azaria, father of Sgt. Elor Azaria, the soldier accused of shooting a disarmed Palestinian in Hebron last March. Azaria is on trial for manslaughter at the Jaffa Military Court.
Netanyahu said that in his conversation about four months ago, he told Charlie Azaria that he could place his faith in the army. Netanyahu said, “I believe in the soldiers, the officers, the military justice system and in the Chief of Staff.”
Netanyahu said Monday that he had told Charlie Azaria that when all the facts came out, “perhaps some new information will come to light” that could exonerate Elor.
Elor Azaria was cross-examined on the stand Monday for the second day in a row in Jaffa Military Court, answering questions from the prosecution over the March 24 incident during which he was filmed shooting Palestinian assailant Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in the head, nearly 15 minutes after Sharif was shot and wounded by soldiers when he attempted to stab them in Hebron.
Soon after the shooting, while military chiefs and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon castigated what they said appeared to be an unlawful shooting, Netanyahu said that “as the father of a soldier and as prime minister, I would like to reiterate: The IDF backs its soldiers.”
“I am convinced that an examination of the event in Hebron will be done responsibly and wisely. Knowing the military justice system, I’m convinced that the court will consider all circumstances regarding the incident,” the prime minister said at the time.
Netanyahu said Monday that he stands fully behind the remarks he made then.