Blue and White leader and former army chief of staff Benny Gantz on Saturday said that Israel must strike Gaza forcefully after a day of near continuous rocket fire on southern Israel from the Palestinian enclave.
“We must strike hard, in an uncompromising manner, in any way the army will recommend, with military and intelligence considerations,” Gantz told Channel 13 news. “We must restore the deterrence that has been eroded catastrophically for more than a year.
“We are stronger than Hamas, now they have to feel it,” Gantz said.
The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday launched a series of strikes on the Gaza Strip from both land and air, as around 300 rockets were fired into Israeli territory. The army said dozens of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
The military struck 120 targets throughout the coastal enclave connected to Hamas, which rules Gaza, and the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The intended opposition leader also addressed the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest, scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv May 14-18. Islamic Jihad has threatened to disrupt the event expected to attract tens of thousands of tourists.
“The Eurovision Song Contest is not Israel’s goal, it is a point on the calendar. Today is the Eurovision, and tomorrow is another event. As of now, Netanyahu has allowed Hamas to set Israel’s agenda,” Gantz charged.
However, Gantz said that he would stop short of taking over the Strip, telling Channel 12 news in a separate interview that: “There is no reason to conquer Gaza. But if necessary, we know how to do it.”
For his part, Blue and White’s No.2, Yair Lapid, castigated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Gaza policies, accusing him of indirectly negotiating not only with Hamas, but also with Iran. “We’re not only talking with Hamas, we’re also talking with Islamic Jihad,” indirectly via Egypt, Lapid told Channel 12. “Ziad Nakhla’a (the leader of the Islamic Jihad terror group) is in Cairo.
Since the head of Islamic Jihad is in Cairo at the ceasefire talks, said Lapid, “the state of Israel is essentially speaking with Iran. He’s an emissary of Iran… Bibi Netanyahu is talking with Iran. They’re so afraid that they might have to do something in Gaza, they’re prepared to talk to anyone to get a ceasefire.”
Netanyahu on Saturday instructed the army “to deal a hard blow” to terror groups in Gaza in response to rocket fire, according to a defense official quoted by Hebrew-language media.
A senior Israeli official told Channel 13 news that there is growing understanding there will not be an immediate return to calm on the southern border, with an expectation of “at least two to three days of fighting.”
Gantz said that Israel was now paying the price for “mafia extortion” from the Gaza terror groups, referring to the payments of Qatari cash in return for a ceasefire.
In November, the Gulf state, a long-time Hamas ally, committed to around $15 million a month in aid over six months, which Israel reportedly approved.
However, Gantz said that he would “allow targeted money transfers to the Gaza Strip for certain projects”
“I would have done it differently. I would have exercised great power, but I would have used regional and global systems that were not through the means of extortion,” he said.
The former military chief also noted that although Israel must defend itself, it must also plan for the future.
“We must continue to use diplomacy — that’s what needs to be done,” he said.