The Hamas terror group claimed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s decision to resign from his position as a “political victory for Gaza” on Wednesday, after Palestinians also said they scored a military win over Israel in a two-day battle that ended the day before.
“Liberman’s resignation is an acknowledgment of defeat of [Israel’s] helplessness against the Palestinian resistance,” the group, which rules Gaza, said in a statement.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second-largest terrorist organization in the Strip, similarly claimed the defense minister’s sudden departure as a victory.
“Behold the political slaughter dealt to leaders of the occupation who aren’t capable of dealing with Gaza,” the organization’s spokesperson said in a statement.
“The resistance succeeded not only in deterring the enemy militarily, but also sowed confusion in their political considerations,” the Iran-backed terror group added.
Inside Gaza, people handed out candy and other treats in celebration of Liberman’s stepping down.
— وكالة الرأي (@alrayps) November 14, 2018
In his resignation announcement, the defense minister said he was stepping down over the government’s handling of this week’s flareup in Gaza, which saw nearly 500 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel, killing one person and injuring scores more, some seriously.
In response, the Israel Defense Forces bombed over 160 sites connected to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including four sites the army identified as “key strategic assets.”
On Wednesday, Liberman said that retaliation was “to put it lightly, drastically lacking.”
The battle — the largest since the 2014 Gaza war — ended on Tuesday evening with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which hasn’t been formally recognized by Israeli officials.
Liberman decried the ceasefire agreement as “capitulation to terror.”
“What we are doing right now is buying quiet for a heavy price with no long-term plan to reduce violence toward us,” he said of the deal.
The agreement also provoked criticism from Israelis who live near the Gaza Strip and want further action against Hamas, which has called for Israel’s destruction.
Within Gaza, however, the ceasefire was met with joyous rallies, with participants waving green Hamas flags and Palestinian flags.
Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV and the Hamas-linked Palestinian Information Center called the demonstrations “spontaneous,” and the Quds News Network said they were “in support of the resistance.”
In a speech to demonstrators in Gaza City in front of the rubble of the Al-Aqsa TV headquarters, destroyed by Israel in an airstrike on Monday night, Hamas official Ismail Radwan declared victory.
“We come out today, celebrating the victory of the resistance, the victory of the Qassam and the victory of the Palestinian resistance here on the mighty land of Gaza,” Radwan said.
“You will not commit a crime without being held accountable for it,” he added. “We salute the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. We salute the resistance. We salute the joint command center [of Palestinian factions in Gaza].”
Radwan also spoke highly of the rockets terrorists groups in Gaza fired at Israel.
“The resistance’s missiles were launched from here and hit the Zionist depth. The message was clear: bombardment for bombardment, killing for killing, blood for blood,” he said. “If you attack Gaza and our people, the response will be the resistance and the Qassam’s missiles shaking you everywhere—in Haifa, Jaffa, Ashkelon and Majdal. God is great. God is great.”
In his resignation press conference, Liberman directly criticized Netanyahu, saying he “fundamentally disagreed with him” on a number of key issues, including the government’s allowing $15 million to be transferred in cash from the Qatari government to Hamas on Friday.
“I opposed it. The prime minister needed to write an executive order for it to go above my head,” Liberman claimed, saying that the money went first to the families of Hamas members killed on the Gaza border in clashes with the IDF and then to funding for rockets to fire at Israel.
He said that he made his decision because “I could not remain [in office] and still be able to look residents of the south in the eyes.”
Liberman concluded his prepared statement by calling for elections to be held “at the soonest possible date.” During a subsequent question-and-answer session he predicted that right-wing voters would “see through the other parties’ hypocrisy” and reward his Yisrael Beytenu party with 20 Knesset seats.
A Likud source said in response that there was “no need to go to elections at this time of sensitive security,” despite the coalition losing five seats with Yisrael Beytenu’s expected exit.
Without Yisrael Beytenu, the coalition would hold a paper-thin majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
“The government can complete its term,” the Likud source said in a statement. “In any case, in the meantime, the defense portfolio will go to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
The Jewish Home party demanded the position of defense minister for its leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, saying it would pull out of the government and topple the coalition if Netanyahu failed to accede to the demand.
Liberman has clashed frequently with Bennett, whose religious-nationalist party will compete with Liberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu over the votes of many hawkish Israelis in the upcoming Knesset elections.
The two men have traded barbs repeatedly in recent weeks, with Bennett accusing Liberman of being soft on Gaza and Liberman replying in kind, while also asserting that policy decisions regarding the ongoing violence emanating from the Strip were made by the ministers in the high-level security cabinet rather than his office.
Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu defended his decision to accept a ceasefire with terror groups in Gaza after the worst escalation in violence in the Strip since 2014.
“In times of emergency, when making decisions crucial to security, the public can’t always be privy to the considerations that must be hidden from the enemy,” he said at a ceremony in honor of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion. “Our enemies begged for a ceasefire and they knew very well why.”