Defense minister says spate of Gazan rocket fire is over

Avigdor Liberman says near-daily missile launches were the ‘cost’ of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, but Hamas has cracked down on Salafis now

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with military officials and the heads of local governments about the situation in Gaza in the IDF's Gaza Division headquarters on December 19, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with military officials and the heads of local governments about the situation in Gaza in the IDF's Gaza Division headquarters on December 19, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

RE’IM MILITARY BASE — Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday said he expects the rocket fire by Gaza-based terrorist groups to stop after nearly two weeks of near-daily launches, referring to the attacks as the “price” Israel had to pay for US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Some two dozen rockets have been fired at Israel by salafist terrorist groups since Trump made his proclamation on December 6. Israel has responded by targeting sites belonging to the Hamas terrorist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, with the hope that Hamas will work to stop the more radical groups.

“The ‘drizzle'” — the slang term for sporadic rocket attacks — “is not continuing. We’ve already had one day of total quiet,” Liberman said, following a meeting with the heads of mayors and regional council leaders from the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Until this point, it has not been clear if Hamas was tacitly supporting the rocket attacks or was simply not actively preventing them for political or strategic reasons.

Liberman credited the military’s “unprecedented preparedness” with being the reason why Hamas ultimately decided to take action in recent days against the groups in the Gaza Strip who have been firing rockets.

“That’s why we’ve seen thousands of salafists getting arrested by Hamas. And, in my view, after the interrogations they’ll go through in Hamas custody, no one will come back to attack, if they come back at all,” the defense minister said, alluding to the terror group’s brutal torture tactics.

The meeting was also attended by the head of the IDF’s Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, the head of the IDF’s Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, and representatives from other emergency services.

Following the meeting, the defense minister described the attacks on southern Israel as being an expected cost of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

“We knew that the recognition by the US president would have a price,” Liberman said, adding that the price was worth gaining legitimacy for the city as Israel’s capital.

Police officers locate a rocket that was fired from the Gaza Strip and struck southern Israel on December 17, 2017. (Israel Police)

“What’s important now is to strengthen the issue of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not up for negotiation or for division,” he said.

He also downplayed the situation in Gaza, saying most of the “panic” was coming from politicians in the opposition, while the local leaders in the Gaza-adjacent areas were calm.

Liberman, who was making jokes throughout the press conference, said that his nearly hour-long meeting with the southern politicans dealt more with their tax concerns and agriculture problems than with the security situation.

Last week, the typically hawkish defense minister similarly also tried to soothe the country regarding the Gaza rockets, saying they were the result of internal Palestinian disputes and did not indicate that Hamas no longer feared the Israel Defense Forces.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to reporters about the situation in Gaza in the IDF’s Gaza Division headquarters on December 19, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Speaking to reporters after the meeting at the IDF’s Gaza Division, Liberman also discussed the recent arrest of a Palestinian teenage girl who was filmed slapping and berating an IDF officer on Friday in an apparent attempt to provoke him so that the encounter could be publicized.

“If you riot during the day, you’ll be arrested during the night,” Liberman said about the case.

During the encounter, the officer and another soldier did not take the apparent bait and scarcely reacted to the instigation, which prompted criticism from some commentators that they were being timid and not adequately defending themselves.

Liberman did not offer his opinion on that aspect of the case, but said that “if there was a shortcoming, it will be addressed.”

He added that the IDF prides itself on being the “most humane army, but that humanity can’t come at the cost of deterrence and power.”

The defense minister also addressed a recent ruling by the High Court of Justice, which determined that the state could not continue to hold the bodies of Palestinian terrorists without a law to dictate how such a thing should be handled. The ruling gave the government six months to pass such a law or release the bodies, which Israel was planning to use in negotiations with Hamas for the return of the remains of two IDF soldiers being held by the group in Gaza.

Liberman initially called for the government to craft a bill and pass it quickly. However, following a meeting of the security cabinet on Monday, the defense minister said that instead of legislating the issue, the government would be litigating it.

He said Tuesday the court seemed to have overstepped its bounds in demanding the government have a law regulating the issue of holding terrorists bodies, singling out the chief justice on the case, Yoram Danziger, who is due to retire shortly.

“It looks like he’s trying to let loose before he leaves the Supreme Court,” Liberman said.

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