Erdan warns ‘very high chance’ of Gaza op in coming months

Erdan warns ‘very high chance’ of Gaza op in coming months

Public security minister says Hamas may force Israel's hand through continued provocations; terror group says the only way to stop fire kites is to lift siege on Gaza

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Bnei Brak, Israel, October 26, 2017. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, in his office in Bnei Brak, Israel, October 26, 2017. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Thursday added his voice to the growing number of politicians warning of the possible need for broad military action in Gaza.

Speaking with Army Radio, Erdan said there was “a very, very high chance” that “there will be no choice and in the coming months we will have to enter a widespread operation in the Gaza Strip.”

“Is this what I want? No,” Erdan added. But he said Hamas could force Israel’s hand with continued provocations through violent border protests, rocket attacks and the ongoing menace of kites and balloons flown over the border carrying incendiary materials and bombs.

Erdan also joined Education Minister Naftali Bennett in saying the IDF should begin striking those launching the kites, whether or not they are young.

“A terrorist is a terrorist,” he said. “Those who launch terror kites that set fields and potentially homes alight and [sometimes] carry bombs… their age is irrelevant.”

He added that Hamas was behind the kite-launching cells. “We know this for a fact.”

A spokesman for Hamas said Thursday that “kites are a popular activity for protesting the Israeli siege,” the Ynet news site reported. He added that “the only way to stop them is to meet the demands of the March of Return, first and foremost the lifting of the siege on Gaza.” Israel maintains a security blockade on the Hamas-run Strip to prevent the group, which seeks to destroy Israel, from importing weaponry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday warned Hamas that Israel’s response to the ongoing arson attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip would “intensify as needed.”

“The intensity will increase as necessary,” he said at graduation ceremony for new IDF officers. “We are prepared for every scenario, and it’s best that our enemies understand this right now.”

“The steel fist of the IDF will powerfully strike anyone who attempts to harm us,” Netanyahu added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at a graduation ceremony for new IDF officers on June 20, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

Speaking at the same event, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the army was working nonstop to fend off attacks and protect Israeli citizens.

“The events of the past few weeks in the north and the south demonstrate how volatile things are. The IDF is working around the clock with a power that is known to our enemies,” he said.

“We will continue to strike those who wish us harm and will restore security to the residents of the south, like in other parts of the country. I am convinced that we will achieve this quickly, with wisdom and determination,” Eisenkot said.

Earlier Wednesday, the IDF declared it was “prepared for an all-out confrontation in Gaza if Hamas continues to introduce new game rules,” following a security briefing with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel.

Netanyahu and Eisenkot’s remarks came as security cabinet member Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Hadashot news channel that Israel was possibly on the way to a war with Gaza that would spell the end of Hamas’s rule over the Strip, and blamed “foreign parties” such as the Palestinian Authority and Iran for the latest escalation of tensions in Israel’s south.

“We can’t know how it ends, when it ends, but it looks like we are on the way to an escalation,” Steinitz said, after Palestinians fired at least 45 rockets at Israel overnight and the IDF struck dozens of targets in the coastal enclave.

Referring to the last war in Gaza, in the summer of 2014, Steinitz said the current flareup could “reach the levels of [Operation] Protective Edge number two, and I believe it will be different. I think this time it will be the end of the story for Hamas’s rule over Gaza. We don’t want to go there, but it certainly looks like it’s going to a very bad place.”

A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel from the southern Gaza town of Rafah on June 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Asked if his words were a message to Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar that it would be the end of the terror group that rules the Strip, Steinitz answered: “I think that should be our goal if we are again forced into an all-out confrontation in Gaza.”

Around midnight on Tuesday, Israeli jets bombed three Hamas positions in the Strip in response to numerous airborne arson attacks by Gazans earlier in the day.

A police sapper arrives on the scene after a balloon with a suspected explosive device attached to it is found in southern Israel on June 17, 2018. (Israel Police)

Minutes later, Palestinians in the Strip launched the first of many rocket and mortar barrages at southern Israel, triggering sirens throughout the area and sending thousands into bomb shelters. Over the course of the next four hours, some 45 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel, with at least six exploding inside communities, causing damage but no injuries.

Hamas, the terrorist group which openly calls for the destruction of Israel, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Israel has since maintained a blockade on the coastal enclave, to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry, while Gaza’s border with Egypt is also largely closed.

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