Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz on Monday criticized the government’s policy in dealing with violence from the Gaza Strip, saying it has diminished Israel’s deterrence and is being interpreted by Iran as a sign of weakness.
Opposition leaders have stepped up their attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Gaza issue, which saw Israel agree last week to economic concessions for the Palestinian enclave in return for its Hamas rulers curbing cross-border violence, particularly balloon-borne incendiaries that have caused brush fires in areas around the Gaza border.
At times the violence has escalated to the brink of open warfare, with Palestinians firing barrages of rockets at Israel, which has responded with airstrikes against terror targets.
“Deterrence has been replaced by a stuttering that does not make use of Israel’s offensive power,” Gantz told the 19th Herzliya Conference on policy. “The implications of the policies that the prime minister is leading are also spreading to other regions and arenas.
“The Iranians in Tehran are also keeping track of this policy. Netanyahu’s behavior on Gaza is transmitting a message of weakness. It is influencing the Iranian determination to shake up the stability of the Middle East.”
Gantz pledged a different approach to the issue if he is elected prime minister in the coming September 17 elections.
“We will crush from the air and resume targeted killings,” Gantz said, referring to the controversial assassination tactic that Israel has used only once in Gaza since 2014, amid a severe flareup in violence earlier this year.
Gantz, a former commander of the IDF, said that he would strive to strengthen an international coalition against Iran and vowed the Iranians would not obtain nuclear weapons on his watch.
“We need to be ready to act — and if required, I won’t hesitate to apply Israel’s force,” he said. “These are not just threats. With an enemy like Iran, you must not blink. Everything that needs to be done must be done. That is the correct approach and it is needed no less in the Gaza Strip.”
Before Iran signed a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers to dismantle the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program, Israel had reportedly planned strikes on Iranian facilities to prevent it obtaining atomic weapons.
Gantz’s remarks came hours after Syria accused Israel of carrying out airstrikes around Damascus, reportedly against Iranian military assets.
Gantz expressed support for those strikes, saying they were necessary to prevent Iran from gaining a military foothold in Syria.
Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran to establish military forces in Syria or allow the supply of advanced weapon system to the Iran’s proxy militia, the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
On Sunday Netanyahu rejected criticism of his Gaza policies, saying “I’m not impressed by the propaganda of the ‘experts.’ Many of them give us advice they themselves did not implement when they were on duty.”
Netanyahu has previously defended his Gaza policy by saying it was in Israel’s interest to do everything possible to avoid a major military operation in the Strip. Gantz has frequently attacked Netanyahu over Gaza on the campaign trail, but has given few details on what he would do differently if he were prime minister.
On Friday an Israeli official confirmed that the country had agreed to a number of economic concessions for Gaza in exchange for an end to arson attacks and other violence along the border. Israel agreed to extend the fishing zone off the Gaza coast to 15 nautical miles and also to restore the supply of fuel to the Palestinian territory, the official said.
Israel does not officially admit to formal ceasefire deals with Hamas or publicly acknowledge dialogue with the terror group, which is usually carried out through Egyptian or international mediators. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, seized Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and has ruled the territory ever since. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks from Gaza.
Arson attacks picked up considerably last week, with teams affiliated with Hamas launching hundreds of helium-inflated balloons and condoms carrying incendiary devices and, in some cases, explosives across the border into Israel.
There were no injuries in the blazes caused by those devices, most of which have occurred in agricultural fields and grasslands, but they have caused significant damage to crops and wildlife.