Undermining PM, Liberman calls to retake Gaza, denounces truce efforts

In thinly-veiled attack on Netanyahu, foreign minister says ‘hesitation’ isn’t helping and only full-scale invasion can stop rocket fire

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in the Knesset on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference in the Knesset on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman criticized Israeli ministers on Tuesday for accepting an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire with Hamas, and — in a thinly veiled attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis — called on Israel to recapture Gaza, asserting that a truce would merely allow the Gaza-based terror group to replenish its stock and build more rockets.

“A ceasefire is mere preparation for the next round of violence,” Liberman said during a press conference in the Knesset, even as the Egyptian ceasefire proposal sputtered out, with Hamas firing dozens of rocket attacks on Israel, and Israel, after a six-hour pause, ordering retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza.

“Given Hamas’s blatant rejection [of the Egyptian proposal], we must make a clear decision. All this hesitation works against us. We must go all the way. There is no alternative,” Liberman said, undermining Netanyahu’s approach while not mentioning the prime minister by name. The end result had to be “kicking Hamas out of Gaza” and the overthrowing of its rule there.

The foreign minister, who also leads the Yisrael Beytenu party, argued that a full-scale military invasion of the Strip was necessary in order to topple the Hamas government. “An end result to the operation would see the IDF control Gaza,” he said.

On Tuesday morning, Israel announced that it would accept the ceasefire proposal and unilaterally halt all airstrikes on Gaza. Only a short while later, however, Hamas indicated its rejection of the deal, as it continued to rain rockets on Israeli cities throughout the country.

Liberman and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett were the only two cabinet members to vote against the ceasefire proposal in the security cabinet.

The foreign minister noted that, in leaving Gaza in 2005, Israel did what the world had asked it to do, returning to the pre-1967 lines, and handing the territory over to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. That it then fell into the hands of Abbas, said Liberman, raised worrying questions. “We pulled out all the settlers; we evacuated all the settlements,” said Liberman. “We have to say to the world, you pressed us to do this. Now you have to back us in going all the way… We have to end this conflict with the IDF in control of all of Gaza… There is no other way to tackle the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror which rules Gaza.”

Liberman’s declarations were at odds with statements he has made in the past regarding an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, and seemed to be a personal attack on Netanyahu. His talk of “hesitation” was an apparent reference to the prime minister’s disinclination to order a ground offensive.

Last Monday, Liberman officially dismantled the allegiance between his own party, Yisrael Beytenu, and Netanyahu’s Likud, after the two factions presented a joint list in last year’s elections. Liberman cited differences in opinion between him and the prime minister over Israel’s response to ongoing rocket fire from Gaza as the reason for the split.

In November 22, 2012, however, one day after Israel signed a ceasefire agreement that concluded Operation Pillar of Defense — an eight-day campaign that involved no boots on the ground — Liberman hailed the government’s judgment.

“We know how to make decisions that serve our national interest,” he said at the time. “Strength is not only to strike, but also to exercise restraint.”

Smoke from rockets fired from near Gaza City is seen after being launched toward Israel, on July 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ Thomas Coex)
Smoke from rockets fired from near Gaza City is seen after being launched toward Israel, on July 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ Thomas Coex)

The cabinet’s decision on Tuesday to accept the ceasefire was heavily condemned by a number of coalition MKs, many of whom echoed Liberman’s call to retake the Gaza Strip. Communications Minister Gilad Erdan said Hamas’s rejection of the deal “unveiled to the world that Hamas has only one purpose, and that is to kill as many Israelis as possible.”

Erdan went on to urge that the IDF invade the Gaza Strip, and rid the coastal enclave of any Hamas influence.

“Israel must now crush the Hamas infrastructure and we must not stop until the job is completed, until the shooting at Israeli citizens will be stopped completely and Gaza is demilitarized from both rockets and tunnels,” he said.

Over 50 rockets were fired at Israeli territory in the hours after the ceasefire proposal was announced, prompting the IDF to resume its strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip.

“After six hours of unilateral attacks by Hamas, the IDF has resumed operational activity in the Gaza Strip,” IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said.

Netanyahu, for his part, instructed the IDF to “act forcefully against terror targets in Gaza.”

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