Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday warned the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that Israel would take action if the terror group does not back down from its intentions to carry out attacks to avenge the arrest of its West Bank leader.
Tensions around the Gaza Strip spiked following the arrest of Bassam Saadi in Jenin on Monday night. Since then, the Israel Defense Forces has bolstered forces and shuttered routes along the border due to fear of an imminent revenge anti-tank guided missile or sniper attack by the Islamic Jihad. The precautions have largely placed residents of the border communities under a lockdown.
“To our enemies in general and to the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad I say explicitly, ‘Your time is limited. The threat will be removed one way or another,'” Gantz said during a press conference at the military’s Southern Command in Beersheba.
Gantz said that the terror group was holding the citizens of Gaza “hostage,” as due to their threats, the Erez Crossing — used by thousands of Palestinians a day — remains closed.
“Whoever robs the livelihood of 14,000 workers, causes agricultural goods to rot in the crossings, and causes a shortage of electricity and food, first of all, harms the residents of Gaza, and will bear the responsibility,” he said.
Palestinian media reports, citing the manager of the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, said six trucks of fuel would be transferred later Friday to ensure the coastal enclave’s sole power plant won’t shut down. There was no immediate confirmation from Israel on the move.
Gantz said Israel’s defense establishment was preparing for “any action that will be required, on all fronts from the south, the center and the north. We will continue operational activity in all sectors, as long as required.”
In a statement to the world, “especially” countries involved in Gaza, Gantz said Israel was “acting with restraint” but would act with “power” in order to return civilian life in southern Israel to “full normalcy.”
“We are not striving for a fight, but we will not hesitate if we have to,” Gantz said.
Gantz’s remarks came after a two-hour-long assessment held with Prime Minister Yair Lapid and military officials.
Gantz then headed to meet with mayors and leaders of communities of towns along the border with Gaza, as anger has mounted over the road closures. In some cases, residents have not been able to leave their towns since Tuesday morning.
Gantz said residents of the Gaza border communities “have shown throughout the years a civil resilience that deserves complete appreciation.”
“Our mission is to ensure that the tension ends and routine returns. I say to the residents of the surrounding area, we are with you and we will do everything necessary to protect you, responsibly, decisively and according to considerations of using force that will lead to the required result,” Gantz said at the press conference.
“We are much stronger than this. I do not take lightly for a moment the current feelings of the residents in this situation,” he added.
“The residents of the [Gaza border communities], their safety and quality of life are our top priority. We are working to return them to their daily routine as quickly as possible. This is our responsibility,” Lapid said in remarks provided by his office.
Lapid was expected to hold further security assessments over the weekend.
Also Friday, the Walla news site reported that a UN representative had visited Saadi’s family in Jenin, as part of efforts to avoid an eruption of violence.
On Thursday, the military’s Gaza Division was reinforced with artillery, engineering, infantry, armored and special forces.
Over the past few days, with armed drones flying over the Strip, the IDF has been working to thwart attempts by Islamic Jihad squads to launch such an attack on the border.
Military chief Aviv Kohavi also visited southern Israel on Friday. On Thursday, Kohavi instructed the IDF to increase the military’s readiness for an escalation, strengthen defenses and increase intelligence efforts. He also approved plans for offensive actions, in the event of an Islamic Jihad attack on the border.
According to the Shin Bet, Saadi, 61, has been jailed and released by Israel seven times over the years. The Shin Bet said that in recent months, Saadi had “worked even harder to restore PIJ activities, and was behind the creation of a significant military force for the organization in [the northern West Bank] in general and in Jenin in particular.”
“His presence was a significant factor in the radicalization of the organization’s operatives in the field,” the Shin Bet added.
Jenin is widely seen as a hotbed of terror activity. Gunmen and other attackers behind several deadly terrorist attacks earlier this year came from the city and its refugee camp.
In a pre-dawn raid in the West Bank town of Burqin, near Jenin, troops arrested a wanted Palestinian, the IDF said Friday morning.