Gaza flareup gives way to calm, but ministers predict future bout

Security cabinet reportedly consider option of broader military action if rocket fire continues, shoots down suggestion of targeted killings

People stand by the wall of a home in the southern city of Sderot damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, November 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
People stand by the wall of a home in the southern city of Sderot damaged by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, November 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The high level security cabinet met for over four hours Sunday, as ministers considered options for confronting violence from the Gaza Strip after a weekend of rocket-fire and IDF responses.

Gazan terrorists shot 10 rockets at Israel on Friday, damaging a home, though causing no injuries. Israel hit back with retaliatory air strikes on Hamas targets, in the latest round of on-again, off-again  violence that has plagued the region for months.

Top-level ministers at the security cabinet meeting assessed that the current round of fighting was over, Channel 12 news reported, even as some leaders predicted that wider violence and a large scale Israeli operation was only a matter of time.

It was the third meeting of the high-level forum since September elections, which failed to give a conclusive result to end the ongoing political deadlock that has left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leading a caretaker government for 10 months.

According to the report, Israeli officials believe Gazan terror groups are uninterested in ratcheting up violence out of fears it will impact the transfer of cash funds from Qatar as well as various humanitarian projects in the Palestinian enclave.

Channel 13 news also reported that the army was attempting to avoid any upped violence with Gaza while it is trying to focus on threats along the northern border.

Although ministers discussed increasing military action against Hamas and other terror targets, they also reviewed easing some of the restrictions Israel places on the territory to improve humanitarian conditions, while reserving the threat to cancel the benefits if rocket fire continues.

According to Channel 12, Education Minister Rafi Peretz of the hard-line Jewish Home party raised the idea of targeted killings, a strategy Israel has not used for several years, but his proposal was shot down as “nonsense,” by another minister.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz speaks, during a press conference at the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2019. (Flash90)

Israeli authorities, though, have warned that they could pursue a wider confrontation with Gaza to stem the border violence, including a possible ground operation, amid public pressure from residents of the rocket scarred south.

Following the meeting, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio that the way the situation looks “it seems we will need to have a large military operation and only then go an arrangement [for quiet with Hamas].”

“If there is no choice, we will launch a ground operation to wipe out the Hamas rule,” he said.

His remarks echoed a similar assessment from Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, who told Kan radio earlier Sunday morning that “there’s no choice but another round [of fighting] with Gaza.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Sunday, Netanyahu said he holds Hamas responsible for any attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip, but will not divulge his plans for dealing with the situation.

At the same time, the military began deploying air defense batteries out of fears that the rocket fire could expand.

New Right party MK Naftali Bennett, a former security cabinet member, told Channel 13 television news on Sunday said the government should prepare a military plan to “deal with Gaza at the root, and to carry it out in the coming days or weeks.”

His remarks contrasted with comments he had made earlier in the day, when he told Army Radio there was “no point” in a stronger response than that taken after ten rockets were launched by Palestinian terrorists over the weekend.

“That will lead to an unnecessary mini-round of violence,” Bennett said. “The thorough treatment needed in the Strip has to be carried out with serious work and not on a whim.”

Palestinians walk around a crater caused by an Israeli airstrike launched in response to rocket fire, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, November 2, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

There has been no claim of responsibility from Gaza for the rocket fire, but Israel routinely holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for any violence emanating from the Strip.

There have been repeated bouts of violence between Hamas and Israel over the past year, as the Islamists have sought to improve on the terms of a UN- and Egyptian-brokered truce first hammered out in November last year.

In return for Hamas silencing the rockets, Israel agreed to a package of measures to ease the crippling blockade it has imposed on Gaza — together with Egypt — for more than a decade, since Hamas, which openly seeks Israel’s destruction, took over the territory in a bloody coup. Israel maintains the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from entering Gaza that could be used to attack the Jewish state.

The measure included allowing in millions of dollars in aid from Hamas ally Qatar to pay for fuel for the territory’s sole power station and cash for salaries and grants to tens of thousands of needy families.

The truce has also seen Israel expand the distance it allows Gaza fishermen out into the Mediterranean — although it reduces it or even cuts it to zero in response to violence from the enclave.

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