Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett held consultations with security chiefs Wednesday at the IDF’s Southern Command headquarters, warning Palestinian terror leaders they could be in Israel’s crosshairs if rocket fire from the Gaza Strip continues.
Since Israel killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in an airstrike early Tuesday, hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israeli territory. The army has carried out extensive strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in response to the rocket fire.
“The terrorists know we can put a target on them and we will put a target on anyone who tries to harm us. They know we can get to them in their hiding places with surgical precision,” Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting, according to a statement from his office.
The premier asserted that the targeted killing of Abu al-Ata led to a “very large change” in the calculations of Gaza-based terror groups vis-à-vis Israel, saying they no longer feel they can attack the Jewish state with impunity.
“This really strengthens the deterrence of Israel and its capabilities against terrorists,” he said.
His comments came as a steady stream of rockets continued to target southern Israel.
Though Israel was not looking for an escalation of violence, Netanyahu said the country was “at the height of the campaign” in Gaza and expressed hope it would end soon.
“We’ll do everything needed to restore quiet and security to residents of the south and Israel,” he said.
He added that defense leaders agreed on the next steps forward, without elaborating.
Bennett, who took over from Netanyahu as defense chief hours after the strike on Abu al-Ata, released a statement making similar threats.
“Every terrorist and terror initiator know they have on their back a timer for the end of their life,” he said.
Bennett also said the decision on how long the fighting would last depended on terror groups in Gaza.
“It’s their decision whether to drag the citizens of Gaza and their own residents into this. We hope not but they’ll bear responsibility for the decisions they make in the coming hours,” he said.
The rocket fire has caused relatively few injuries but significant damage to property. According to the IDF, the Iron Dome air defense system intercepted the vast majority of the incoming projectiles heading toward populated areas — 90 percent as of Wednesday morning.
In total, at least 24 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed and 69 wounded since early Tuesday morning, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said.
Islamic Jihad and other terror groups in the Strip have publicly acknowledged that at least 12 of those killed were their members, though Israeli officials have indicated that the number is far higher. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said three of the dead were children.
After an overnight lull, renewed violence on Wednesday morning came as Islamic Jihad vowed to avenge the killing of Abu al-Ata. Senior Islamic Jihad officials on Tuesday evening said the “real response” to Abu al-Ata’s elimination had yet to come.
“The coming hours will speak for themselves,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Breim told the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today news site.
There was no statement from either side on a ceasefire, though Egyptian and UN officials on Tuesday night said were pushing for one.
Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cairo was attempting to deescalate tensions between Israel and the terror groups. The officials added that the Egyptian General Intelligence Service stepped up communications and “opened channels” with the US and the European Union.