Despite the countless messages of condolence issued by leaders across the Western world, the international community would show little understanding if Israel were to launch a wide-scale military operation against Palestinian targets or expand settlements in response to the killing of the three Israeli teenagers, a senior diplomatic official warned Tuesday.

“We had some legitimacy to carry out Operation Brothers Keeper, including massive arrests of Hamas members,” the official told The Times of Israel, referring to the IDF’s efforts to locate Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, who were snatched from a hitchhiking post south of Jerusalem and killed on June 12. The international community frowned upon the 18-day search for the three, which included the arrests of hundreds of Hamas members, “but not too much,” the official said, adding that Israel was only condemned when noncombatants were harmed.

“Now the whole thing is over and we will not have legitimacy for any military operation,” the official, who insisted on anonymity, said. “While we were looking for the kidnapped teenagers there was legitimacy for the operation, though not for the casualties. There were condemnations, but it was understood that we had to find the teens. Now, however, this justification does not exist anymore. Now any forceful IDF operation will not be understood.”

Israel is expected to crack down on terrorist organizations in the coming days, but world leaders expect Jerusalem not “to provoke too much violence on the ground,” the diplomatic official said. “That’s not going to look justifiable.”

Certainly, any announcement of settlement expansion will be swiftly condemned, the official added. “In the eyes of the international community, that doesn’t seem justified under any circumstance. They see no connection between the crime that just occurred and building additional housing units in the settlements.”

The cabinet on Monday night discussed for three hours how to retaliate against Hamas for the killing of the three teens, who were abducted near the Gush Etzion junction. While some ministers called for an immediate and extensive operation to punish Hamas and severely damage the organization’s capabilities, others, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not want rush to action and seemed to prefer a more measured response. The cabinet session ended without conclusions and another was scheduled for Tuesday evening.

Even before the stormy meeting, several right-wing politicians, including Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), called for a “proper Zionist response,” referring to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and construction in East Jerusalem.

Condolences and calls for restraint

Expressions of shock, outrage and mourning poured in from governments across the Western world in the hours after the teens’ deaths were announced. While some leaders sufficed with expressing their condolences to the bereaved families and the people of Israel, others added calls for restraint, hoping that Israel’s anticipated acts of retaliation would not further exacerbate an already fraught security situation on the ground.

The United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he believes this “heinous act by enemies of peace aims to further entrench division and distrust and to widen the conflict. It must not be allowed to succeed.” All parties need to abide by their obligations under international law and “refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The European Union likewise called for “restraint of all parties concerned” so as not to “further aggravate the fragile situation on the ground.”

US President Barack Obama encouraged Israel and the Palestinian Authority to continue collaborating in their efforts to find the kidnappers and bring them to justice. “I also urge all parties to refrain from steps that could further destabilize the situation. As the Israeli people deal with this tragedy, they have the full support and friendship of the United States,” he said.

Secretary of State John Kerry called the killing of innocent youths “an outrage beyond any understanding or rationale” and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice. “This is a time for all to work towards that goal without destabilizing the situation,” he said.

“It is vitally important that all parties avoid steps that could further increase tensions and destabilize the situation,” said Susan Rice, the American national security adviser.

French President Francois Hollande said he was concerned over “the upsurge in violence in recent days in the West Bank and Gaza.” He condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli territory and demanded that “everything be done to avoid further casualties and the risk of an escalation of violence.”

French ambassador to Israel Patrick Maisonnave called for “restraint against any form of vengeance,” but assured the people of Israel that “France is with you in this tragic moment.” He said he was certain that Israel will be able to “shed light on this incident and do justice.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had discussed the teens with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Liberman, in Berlin mere hours before their deaths were announced. He said he hoped that despite the “infinite pain” over Israel’s loss, “actions in the coming days will be guided by the longing for peace.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was “deeply concerned” by the deteriorating security situation in the region. She called on both sides to “refrain from any escalation of violence that would only serve to make the resolution of differences between Israel and Palestinians more difficult.”

Her Canadian counterpart, John Baird, offered Israelis Ottawa’s “unwavering support as they mourn the loss of three young men who were taken from their families and friends far too early.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement most explicitly assured his support for Israel’s efforts to locate and punish those responsible for the killings. “This was an appalling and inexcusable act of terror perpetrated against young teenagers. Britain will stand with Israel as it seeks to bring to justice those responsible,” he said.