Any attack on Israel will be met with a swift and forceful response, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz vowed Wednesday, hours after Palestinians opened fire on an Israeli patrol along the southern Gaza Strip, severely injuring one soldier.
The incident, the second cross-border exchange with Gazan fighters in less than a week, also elicited harsh responses from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while a UN official said he was “deeply concerned” over the fire.
Speaking at a conference organized by the Calcalist financial publication, Gantz said the IDF was continuously assessing the situation and formulating new strategies in order to counter the numerous threats posed to Israel’s security.
“The instability in the region regularly characterizes the life of IDF soldiers,” the IDF head said at the conference. “We have no intention of allowing these challenges to pass without a response, we responded and will respond strongly if ever required.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later echoed Gantz’s statements, vowing to respond firmly to any threat to Israeli civilians.
“Our policy is clear, a strong and determined response against any attempt to breach the peace in the south,” the prime minister said in a statement. We will react forcefully whenever there is an attempt to break the quiet which had been reached in the south following Operation Protective Edge.”
The IDF patrol was operating on the Israeli side of the border near Kibbutz Kissufim when it came under sniper and machine gun fire Wednesday morning.
Palestinian sources said that a heavy exchange of fire ensued, with IDF tank fire striking a target east of Khan Younis. Jets also fired on Gaza targets, and Palestinians said that the commander of Hamas’s surveillance unit in the area, Tayseer al-Ismary, was killed in the exchange with Israeli troops.
“We must admit that some places that were completely stable for four decades, after the Yom Kippur War, have now become less stable,” Gantz said at the beginning of his address. “The Sinai attacks we have seen, the consolidation of global jihad, Syria which has fallen apart and everything having to do with Lebanon.”
“We must add that despite the fact there is no apparent danger here and now of armies rolling into Israeli territory, and I think our level of deterrence is strong enough in all operational scenes, there is still a significant trend of instability,” he added.
United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, James Rawley, said he was “deeply concerned” by the exchange of fire between Palestinian militants and the IDF in the southern Gaza Strip today, which resulted in casualties on both sides.
Rawley urged both Israel and the Palestinians to “maintain and reinforce the ceasefire of 26 August and refrain from escalating tensions.”
On Friday, a rocket slammed into open countryside near an Israeli community, prompting an Israeli airstrike on a cement plant in the Strip, in what was seen as the first serious exchange of fire since Israel and Hamas-led fighters agreed to a ceasefire in late August, ending a 50-day war.
After the Friday exchange, Hamas reportedly informed Israel that it was not interested in an escalation in the Gaza Strip, and would crack down on the Palestinians who fired the rocket.
Hamas conveyed its message to Israel through an Egyptian mediator, emphasizing that it did not stand behind the rocket attack — the third of its kind since a ceasefire agreement in August ended the most recent conflagration in the Strip.
The terror group pledged to locate those responsible for firing the projectile, which drew a retaliatory Israeli airstrikes over the weekend. The air raid targeted a Hamas factory that was producing cement to rebuild the attack tunnels destroyed and damaged in last summer’s war, the prime minister said.
Adiv Sterman, Lazar Berman and AFP contributed to this report.