In an apparent threat to the Hamas terror group, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday said during a visit to a military exercise in southern Israel simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip that the Israeli military was prepared to “defeat any enemy.”
“Should we have to go to war, we will be able to defeat any enemy. The Israel Defense Forces knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it,” the defense minister said.
The defense minister’s comments came amid a period of heightened tensions, with many in Israel and in Gaza warning that another war in the Palestinian enclave was imminent in light of increased violence along the border.
Recent months have seen daily arson attacks from Gaza with incendiary kites and balloons that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land; regular riots and clashes along the border, which have resulted in over 130 Palestinians killed by IDF gunfire; and occasional outbursts of mortar and rocket fire by Gaza terrorist groups, which have prompted dozens of Israeli retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas positions.
Following a significant flareup over the weekend and continued airborne arson attacks, Israel severely limited the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing and has threatened further action if the stream of kites and balloons does not stop.
On Sunday, the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division launched an exercise simulating a war in the Gaza Strip, including the capture of Gaza City, which the military said was planned in advance and was not related to the weekend’s exchange of fire between Israel and the Hamas terror group in the Strip, in which some 200 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel and the IDF carried out dozens of strikes inside the Palestinian enclave.
However, the manner in which the exercise was publicized by the military led many to see it as a tacit threat to Hamas.
During Liberman’s visit to observe the exercise on Tuesday, he appeared to respond to criticism that Israel has allowed Hamas, which rules Gaza, to dictate the course of recent events.
“We will set the rules of the game and no one else,” the defense minister said.
Liberman also praised the officers and soldiers participating in the exercise, saying he was “very impressed by their preparedness and motivation.”
The drill in the country’s Negev region was conducted mainly by infantry and armored forces, and included exercises in urban warfare, with the city of Beersheba serving as a surrogate for Gaza’s cities.
Monday’s exercise — which the IDF invited local media to film, and which was detailed on the evening’s main news broadcasts — appeared intended to send a message to Hamas that Israel was prepared to take drastic action, if needed, to bring peace back to the Israeli communities in the Gaza periphery, which have endured weeks of “fire kite” attacks launched from the Hamas-run Strip.
The IDF’s Gaza Division recruited reserve drivers Monday to help Israel’s fire department and the army deal with blazes in southern Israel caused by the airborne arson attacks.
On Saturday night, a ceasefire of sorts was brokered by Egypt and other international bodies, though Israel was not directly involved in the talks. The violence abated to some degree, but tensions endured and cross-border attacks continued.
On Monday, the security cabinet was briefed on the Home Front Command’s preparedness for conflict, while the army deployed additional Iron Dome Missile Defense systems in central and southern Israel and called up some reserve forces to better handle security needs.
The deployment came as part of the army’s preparations for the possibility that Hamas will instruct its operatives to fire long-range rockets at the heart of Israel.
Taking part in the drill, Ohad Najameh, commander of the 401st Armored Brigade, said he believed penetrating deep into Gaza would not take long, but that a decisive victory over Hamas would take some time.
“In order to win, we need to confront the enemy, and we want to confront them on our terms, in our time,” Najameh told Hadashot TV news. “We’ve developed the tools and the exercises so that we will be the stronger side when we meet Hamas.”
Najameh further said that the IDF was prepared to strike Hamas leadership and had detailed plans regarding the group’s top officials. “I believe that striking senior officials will deal a significant blow and will affect the battlefield,” he said. “And yes, we will try to strike them.”
“We are ready and speaking in terms of war [that could come] tomorrow,” Lt. Col. Barak Rubin, deputy commander of the Nahal infanty brigade, told Channel 10. “It occurs to me that this drill could become a real entry into the Strip.”
He added: “The purpose is decisive action, that when I meet the enemy, I will be able to defeat him and destroy him. We’re preparing surprises on our side, tools the other side is unaware of.”
Lt. Col. Eli Gino, deputy commander of the Givati infanty brigade, added that the commanders and the military as a whole had implemented lessons from the 2014 war in the Strip. “We’ve learned and we’ve improved,” he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.