With airstrikes in the Gaza Strip and rocket fire at southern Israel showing no sign of abating Tuesday, Israeli leaders warned that if the attacks didn’t stop, the IDF could launch a land invasion against Hamas, which it blames for the recent escalation in violence.
Following a meeting with the heads of Israel’s security establishment in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The gloves are off.”
“Hamas chose this escalation and will pay a heavy price,” he added.
Officials in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu had therefore instructed the army to launch a “continuous, methodical, and forceful campaign” against the terrorist group in the Gaza Strip.
“The directive to the Israel Defense Forces is to be ready to go all the way,” the sources said, adding that even a ground operation was on the table.
It is likely that the IDF will call up additional reservists to prepare for a possible invasion of the strip, the sources said.
The purpose of Operation Protective Edge is to “is exact a heavy price from Hamas, to hit it hard, and to create a significant attack that that will lead to deterrence,” the sources said.
The IDF has the authority to do whatever necessary to restore quiet to the south, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch noted.
“The IDF has a free hand to act with whatever steps it determines,” he said. “The political leadership has effectively authorized everything the IDF has requested.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in consultation with the IDF Home Front Command chief, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, and the director general of the Defense Ministry, Dan Harel, declared a special security situation on the home front, granting the chief of staff the authority to issue protective orders to civilians living within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Gaza Strip.
The declaration also ensures that employees living within the declared zone will not be fired from their jobs or penalized for missing work.
Earlier, the IDF Home Front Command ordered towns and cities within a 40 kilometer range to prepare public bomb shelters for use. Summer day camps and educational activities in the area were canceled on Tuesday as a precaution and the IDF prohibited gatherings of more than 300 people.
“We are preparing for a campaign against Hamas which will not end within few days,” Ya’alon said at a security assessment Tuesday. “Hamas is guiding the current clash to a place where it is able to exact a price from our home front. There is a need for perseverance. Proper civilian conduct has a decisive role in our ability to avoid civilian casualties, and [do] listen to Home Front Command orders regarding proximity to and entry into safe rooms.”
Ya’alon pointed out that the army had struck dozens of Hamas assets overnight and throughout the morning and that the IDF was continuing its offensive “in a manner that will exact a very heavy price from Hamas.”
He reiterated that Israel will not tolerate rocket fire on its civilians and cities and said that Israel is prepared to broaden the campaign, “using all of the means at our disposal to strike Hamas.”
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that whether or not Israel would launch a ground operation in Gaza was up to Hamas.
“It is our duty to provide security to our citizens. The question is what’s the right way to do that. It very much depends on the extent to which Hamas will not allow Israel’s citizens to live in peace,” she declares Tuesday.
Hamas spokesman Husam Badran declared that Hamas was not looking for a war, but will not simply “raise the white flag” in the face of the major Israeli offensive either.
In an interview with the BBC, he accused Israel of violating the truce declared in 2012 several times in the past two weeks and said that Hamas has no choice but to “teach Israel a lesson.”
For the first time in the latest round of violence, Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for some of the rocket attacks on Ashdod and Ashkelon on Tuesday morning.
As Israel continued its air offensive against targets in Gaza, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas released a statement calling on Israel to end what he called “a dangerous escalation.”
“Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas demanded Israel immediately stop its escalation and the raids on Gaza,” said a statement from his office published by the official WAFA news agency.
Meanwhile at the Israel Conference for Peace organized in Tel Aviv by the Haaretz daily, President Shimon Peres asserted that despite the belligerence of Hamas, peace with the Palestinians was still possible.
Peres said that while Hamas was Israel’s enemy, there has never been a greater partner for peace on the Palestinian side than Abbas, pointing to Abbas’s condemnation of the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers who were later found dead as proof that he is willing to risk his life for peace.
“Today there are two camps among the Palestinians,” Peres said. “There is the peace camp and the camp that wants to destroy. Every serious person has to admit that Abu Mazen (Abbas) was surprising. To appear in Saudi Arabia, to condemn the murderers and to call for peace and to end the terror — the man endangered and endangers his life for the sake of peace.”
“In the history of the conflict there has not been a personality like Abu Mazen,” he said.