Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said over the weekend that Hamas is rearming in Gaza and rebuilding its cross-border tunnels extending into Israel, Channel 2 reported on Saturday.
The Jewish Home chairman, who also serves in the Knesset’s security cabinet, reportedly told worshippers at a synagogue in central Israel that the next round of fighting between Israel and the Gaza Islamist group is “only a matter of time,” and said the terror group had mostly recovered from the conflict.
Congregants at the synagogue in Givat Shmuel also disclosed that Bennett, in a private conversation with worshippers, said Hamas is preparing itself for a lengthy fight with Israel, despite suffering heavy losses during Operation Protective Edge.
“A few months after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has grown dramatically stronger and rebuilt itself,” Bennett was quoted as saying. “It’s only a matter of time before another confrontation with them — maybe a year, maybe two, maybe less — but it will happen and we must be strong and ready.”
Bennett said that the attack tunnels — a major focus of last summer’s operation — are once again operational.
The Jewish Home chairman, who is reportedly vying for the position of defense minister in the next government, also criticized the management of the operation, contending that Israel should be more aggressive in its next conflict with Hamas.
“We fought them for fifty days during Operation Protective Edge, and I kept saying we have to hit them harder in order to gain a decisive victory. Next time, we’ll have to do it harder and more forcefully in order to prevent them from recovering,” Bennett reportedly said.
Last week, the IDF said it had demolished the remains of a subterranean passageway from the Strip jutting into Israel. The army said in a statement it found “a cache of weapons and explosives,” in the tunnel, and noted that it did not enter Gaza during work to destroy the passageway.
The army ended Operation Protective Edge in late August after saying it had destroyed all 31 cross-border tunnels dug for attacks against Israelis, but senior officers admitted at the time that “one or two” tunnels could have gone undetected.
Gazan fighters used the tunnels for several attacks against Israeli forces, sometimes penetrating deep into Israeli territory. In one attack on an IDF post near Kibbutz Nahal Oz during the summer operation, five soldiers were killed.
Unnamed security sources have said recently that Hamas is working to rebuild its tunnel infrastructure as well as rearm its depleted rocket arsenal.
In October, a Vanity Fair report confirmed rumors that before the summer’s war, Hamas was planning to insert hundreds of terrorists into Israel via underground tunnels, to kidnap and kill a large number of Israelis.
More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed during the summer war, according to UN figures, which said most of them were civilians. Israel said some 1,000 of the fatalities were Hamas operatives and other gunmen, and blamed Hamas for all civilian casualties, arguing that the group attacked Israel from within residential areas.
Hamas and other terror groups fired over 4,500 rockets and projectiles at Israel, and staged several deadly attacks against IDF soldiers through cross-border tunnels. Seventy-three people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers, were killed during the operation.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.