YAD MORDECHAI — Standing at the entrance to a concrete bomb shelter meters from where a mortar fell just minutes earlier, and as a fresh barrage of rockets flew overhead, Blue and White party leader and former army chief of staff Benny Gantz said Sunday afternoon that Israel should increase its military response to rockets from the Gaza Strip but, “after this round,” seek a diplomatic solution to end the violence.
“Israel must increase the attacks and act forcefully against Hamas in a way that will restore deterrence, ” he said in an impromptu press conference in the Gaza border community of Yad Mordechai after rocket sirens sounded throughout the region.
“But at the end of the campaign, we have to initiate a diplomatic process that will work with all the players to find a long-term solution,” he added as dozens of explosions could be heard from outside the shelter.
“It is now a time of fighting and we have to work hard, but the responsibility of the prime minister, the cabinet and the government of Israel is to ensure, after this round of fighting, stability and stable maintenance of all the surrounding communities,” he said after a morning visiting towns and agricultural communities bordering the coastal enclave controlled by the Hamas terrorist group.
The rockets that were fired around the time Gantz arrived in Yad Mordechai — for what he had planned to be a press statement against a backdrop of placid Israeli fields all the way to the border — killed two people and wounded two others.
Hours earlier, the Israeli military sent an additional tank brigade to the Gaza border in preparation for fighting in the coming days after over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip over the course of 24 hours this weekend, killing an Israeli man and injuring several others.
In response to the attacks, the IDF said it bombed over 220 military targets in the Strip, causing considerable damage to terror groups’ facilities, but relatively few casualties in the densely populated coastal enclave.
Gantz said that Israel must focus on a number of goals, not just military ones: “To crush the terrorists using all means [at our disposal], to renew deterrence, to not agree to a policy of [paying] protection, to strengthen the communities surrounding the entire border, and to mobilize countries and international bodies to develop the infrastructure of the Strip.”
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up the attacks on Gaza.
“I ordered the IDF this morning to continue its massive strikes against terror forces in the Gaza Strip, and instructed [the army] to bolster its presence around the Gaza Strip with armor, artillery and infantry forces,” he told the cabinet ahead of its weekly meeting in Jerusalem.
He also declared the area around the Gaza Strip to have a “special status,” a legal designation that gives the government additional powers in order to protect the lives of civilians.
“As I am convinced that there is a reasonably high chance that an attack against the civilian population will take place, I am declaring this special status for the Gaza periphery at a radius of 0 to 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu wrote in an official declaration.
That designation will last for 48 hours unless renewed.
Under Israel’s 1951 Civil Defense Law, that special classification gives local and national government the ability to override normal laws in the case of an emergency, including forcing people to work to ensure critical services like water and electricity are delivered to residents. The military is also granted the ability to give orders to the civilian population in order to keep them out of harm’s way.
Israel last used this provision of the 1951 Civil Defense Law during the 2014 Gaza war.
Gantz said it was the right move and that “our first consideration must be for the people living here, for the parents who have to decide whether to let their children leave the shelter to go to the bathroom, to the children who cannot sleep due to the sirens or simple fear.”
But he said Netanyahu must also think about a long-term solution.
“You do not have to ask what you are doing on the day when there is an event like this, but what the government does when there is no event, what does it do to change this situation?” he said. “Unfortunately, this has not happened in recent years, I hope they will do it now.”
Gantz said on Saturday night that Israel was 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 told Channel 12 news.