Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman, the recently resigned defense minister, took aim at the government Friday over its policy on the Gaza Strip and accused it anew of being soft on terrorism.
During a tour of the Gaza border town of Sderot, which is often the target of Palestinian rocket attacks, Liberman noted the recent discovery of a Hamas terror network in the West Bank and the fact that it did not elicit collective punitive measures from Israel.
“Yesterday we all saw the absurd [situation] we’ve ended up in,” he said. “The Shin Bet [security service] exposed a terror cell that was controlled from Gaza, but yesterday and today fuel from Qatar was still being transferred into the Strip, while they carry out attacks in Judea and Samaria and in Israel.”
Liberman resigned last week and pulled his party out of the governing coalition, citing a ceasefire with Hamas to end a fierce and deadly exchange of rocket fire on Israeli towns and Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza. At the time, he termed the agreement a “capitulation to terror” and said he had been opposed to it.
On Friday, he recalled those earlier remarks, saying, “We must not capitulate to terror. I intend to open a parliamentary office here and come to Sderot every week.
“It is crucial that we change the government policy that we’ve seen in the past week,” he added. “This isn’t a functioning government but rather a surviving one.”
Liberman’s exit from the coalition left Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a razor-thin 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who had threatened to resign if he was not given Liberman’s job, rescinded his ultimatum earlier this week, saving the coalition from immediate collapse. Bennett, too, has long rallied for a stronger Israeli military response to violence emanating from the Strip, and was a harsh critic of Liberman when the latter was defense minister.
The Shin Bet announced Thursday that it had recently uncovered a Hamas terror network in the West Bank that was acting on orders from the group’s leaders in Gaza, with plans to conduct large-scale bombing attacks against targets in the West Bank and Israel.
According to the security service, members of the various terror cells prepared to manufacture explosives and were instructed to “select crowded sites as targets for the attacks.”
The Shin Bet said that effort differed from previous attempts by Hamas to carry out attacks in the West Bank in recent years, “in terms of the scope and the potential of danger.”
According to the security service, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group has made it a priority to carry out attacks in the West Bank in order to “undermine the stability” of the area.
In a statement, a senior Shin Bet official said the agency had arrested “hundreds” of young Palestinians — both men and women — in the West Bank who had been recruited by Hamas.
“Continued activity by the secret network for carrying out attacks, which is operated by the senior military wing leadership, constitutes a central and dangerous element for instability and is an immediate and substantial threat to the region,” the Shin Bet said.
Israel has been allowing Qatari-bought fuel into the Gaza Strip so that Palestinian residents can benefit from more hours of daily electricity, amid warnings of a looming humanitarian collapse in the isolated coastal enclave.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.