Official: Trying to avoid sending young men to their deaths

Despite mounting pressure, Netanyahu says Israel seeking to prevent war in Gaza

PM says that while a large-scale military operation might prove inevitable, it is in Israel’s interest to avert that outcome, while maintaining security

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian protesters protect their faces from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 29, 2018. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP)
Palestinian protesters protect their faces from tear gas fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 29, 2018. (MAHMUD HAMS/AFP)

Israel’s top priority in dealing with the ongoing violence on Gaza is to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Israel and to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.

While another large-scale military operation in the Strip might prove unavoidable, it is in Israel’s interest to try to do everything possible, including accepting the mediation and assistance offered by the international community, to prevent such a scenario, he said.

“We are acting first of all to protect Israel from infiltration by people who come to harm us — our soldiers and our communities — and who want to cross the border and kill our civilians and soldiers. We have prevented it thus far,” he told Israeli diplomatic reporters during a briefing in his Jerusalem office.

“On the other hand, we’re trying to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” he said. To that end, Israel is ready to accept the involvement of the United Nations, Egypt and other Arab countries in order to bring about a solution, he said.

Egypt has long served as a mediator between Jerusalem and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and in recent days Qatar has been delivering fuel to the territory in order to boost the power output there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on October 28, 2018. (Ohad Zwigenberg/YEDIOTH AHRONOTH)/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s comments came against a backdrop of ongoing violence at the Gaza border, and a demand by some members of the security cabinet for harsher action.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, for instance, on Monday called for more forceful action in light of the ongoing attacks from the coastal enclave.

But a senior official, speaking Monday on condition of anonymity, said that Israel will exhaust every last chance to restore calm before launching large-scale military action that may cost many lives.

Another war with Hamas in Gaza might mean “sending young men to their deaths, and that needs to have a good justification. We want to prevent war. We don’t know if we can.”

It may not be popular to try to reach an informal agreement with Hamas to stop the violence rather than calling for all-out war, the official added, but Netanyahu was willing to use his political capital “in a responsible manner” and to weather criticism over his approach, even if he had to pay a political price for it.

Furthermore, the senior official went on, Israel would have long ago re-occupied Gaza, if it could find somebody to take over the Strip afterward.

“But there are no takers,” he said.

Therefore, Israel is left with two options, the official went on: either launch a war, at the end of which Israel will find itself at more or less the same point it started from, or work diligently to deescalate the situation, using occasional military strikes to create deterrence and international mediation to allow for alleviating the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Strip.

An explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, on October 27, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The official’s comments came as thousands of Palestinians rioted along the northern Gaza security fence on Monday, the army said. Palestinians reported that one man was shot dead by Israeli forces.

Some 3,000 people were throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli troops across the border and attempting to damage the fence, according to the military.

On Sunday, the military said it carried out an airstrike targeting three Palestinians who were attempting to damage the fence in the border region between Israel and Gaza.

The army added that the Palestinians had apparently been “in the process of planting an explosive device” in the southern half of the Strip.

The Gaza health ministry pronounced the three Palestinians dead and identified them as 14-year-old Khalid Abu Said, 14-year-old Abdel-Hamid Abu Dhaher and 13-year-old Muhammed al-Satari.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks, bombings and attempted border breaches as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of the Strip in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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