The Hamas terror group on Wednesday gloated over a rocket attack the night before which forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to interrupt a live broadcast of a campaign speech while he took cover, saying the missiles had struck at the heart of Israel and shaken its image.
“Everyone saw Netanyahu fleeing because of the resistance’s strikes,” Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar told the Gaza-based Dunya al-Watan news site. “This incident is significant because the resistance has made it all the way to the heart of the Israeli occupation and Netanyahu. This is something that has shaken Israel’s image.”
Two rockets were fired at Ashdod and nearby Ashkelon from Gaza on Tuesday evening. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli jets targeted 15 sites in the Gaza Strip in retaliation overnight.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has not taken responsibility for the attack. Though other Gaza terror groups possess rockets, Israel holds Hamas responsible for such attacks.
For many of his domestic political rivals, the scenes of Netanyahu being whisked away by a group of bodyguards provided a counterpoint to the image he has attempted to cultivate as Mr. Security, highlighting what critics say is his government’s failure to deal with attacks from Gaza terror groups.
On Wednesday Netanyahu accused his rivals in the Blue and White party of “gloating” over the incident like the Palestinians in Gaza.
“I heard the cries of joy of [Blue and White’s Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz,” said Netanyahu. “I don’t know where there was more excitement, in Gaza or among Lapid and Gantz… For shame.”
Gantz had touted the fact that his party member and fellow former general Gabi Ashkenazi remained onstage at a campaign event in nearby Ashkelon as the alarm sounded, potentially putting himself in danger, while Netanyahu left the stage — as required by Home Front orders. Had he been in an area targeted, said Gantz, “I wouldn’t have moved.”
Top Likud officials defended the prime minister and the Shin Bet security agency’s response.
“A low point of the elections: Three former IDF chiefs of staff are gloating over fire at the prime minister. Shameful,” the prime minister’s party tweeted, referring to Blue and White’s triumvirate of lieutenants-general: Gantz, Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.
The rocket fire came as Netanyahu was about to begin a speech to Likud supporters in Ashdod a week before Israelis head to the polls. The event was broadcast live on Facebook.
In the extraordinary scene captured on video, Netanyahu was hustled away from the stage by a gaggle of security guards as sirens sounded.
“Leave quietly,” Netanyahu told the crowd before calmly walking off the stage.
He returned minutes later to resume his speech.
רגע הפינוי של ראש הממשלה נתניהו, אחרי שהופעלה אזעקה באשוד. pic.twitter.com/Y2KLOnrx8d
— almog boker (@bokeralmog) September 10, 2019
Senior Likud members on Wednesday praised Netanyahu for seeking shelter.
“Netanyahu acted entirely correctly under these circumstances,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio. “You must remember to set a personal example and not play the hero.
As prime minister, Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning, Netanyahu “must follow the Shin Bet’s orders and must be evacuated to a bomb shelter. He has no discretion [on the matter].”
But right-wing rivals also slammed the premier.
Yamina party member Naftali Bennett called the incident a “national humiliation,” adding: “Hamas has stopped fearing Israel. Israel’s security will be reinstated by assassinating Hamas chiefs, not press conferences.” Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said it underlined that Netanyahu’s Gaza policy was bankrupt.
Netanyahu has attempted to thread a line between keeping Gazan groups deterred from attacking Israel while also being wary not to push the Strip into a fresh war.
Critics have slammed him for reaching a series of tacit ceasefire agreements with Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel.