Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman spoke with the leaders of rocket-battered southern communities Thursday and told them the military would do whatever it takes to end missile attacks from the Gaza Strip, after a series of barrages injured seven people.
The Israeli military said over 180 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip since Wednesday night. Residents said it was the worst night of attacks since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
The rocket attacks and reprisal airstrikes by Israel continued throughout Thursday morning.
Liberman talked with Alon Davidi, mayor of Sderot, and the leaders of other regional councils bordering on Gaza, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The minister praised the mayors and the residents of their communities for their “stamina and the backing they are giving the IDF and the security forces,” saying “we will do whatever is necessary” to restore calm to the south.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union faction criticized the government for “losing control” of the situation after months of violent border clashes and exchanges of fire between the IDF and Hamas-led terror groups in Gaza that have escalated into several rounds of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel and Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets.
In addition to the border clashes, Palestinians in Gaza have for months launched balloons or kites carrying incendiary devices into Israeli territory where they started blazes on an almost daily basis, destroying thousands of acres of farmland and countryside and causing millions of shekels in damage.
Israel holds Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, responsible for attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.
“Hamas is in a weak position, and instead of taking advantage of the opportunities — there is no policy, we are being dragged in further, and are losing control,” Livni tweeted. “Those who were complacent about the fires in the fields, are [now] seeing homes under fire.”
Referring to ongoing efforts to broker a ceasefire via Egypt, the UN — and reportedly Qatar — Livni said Israel has lost the initiative and is now at the mercy of the Arab states’ initiatives as well as that of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Israel has moved to a waiting position, is negotiating with a terror organization, and is dependent on it, on Abbas, Egypt, on the Qataris, the UN,” she said. “Without any political ability to connect the threads, and the residents of the south are paying the price.”
MK Yair Lapid, who leads the Yesh Atid party, traveled Thursday to Sderot to review damage from the overnight attacks and receive an update on the situation.
“Hamas has to understand that Israel will not tolerate nights like the one we just had with rockets and mortars being fired at our women and children,” Lapid said.
“This situation is intolerable and it is unsustainable. We will not sit on our hands while our children are bombed by a terrorist organization which uses its own children as human shields. Israel has every right to protect itself from terrorism.”
Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant threatened that Israel could adopt a strategy of assassinating Hamas leaders and members.
Gallant added that if necessary, Israel will target Hamas’s leaders, the heads of its firing squad and eventually every single member of Hamas, “regardless of the price or how long it may take.” Gallant headed the IDF Southern Command between 2005 and 2010, which included Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-9 Gaza war.
“Whatever is needed to protect our citizens and our soldiers will be done, no matter what the price will be in Gaza,” Gallant said, and warned that Hamas could find itself set back a decade by the Israeli response.
“We are determined to defend ourselves,” he stressed during a briefing organized by The Israel Project advocacy group.
However, if Hamas “behaves itself,” Israel will respond in a similar manner, he said.
In May, Hadashot TV news reported that Israel had sent a message to Hamas via Egypt that if the Gaza border clashes continue it would resume targeted assassination of the terror group’s leaders. Although the violence has not ended, and despite occasional sharp escalations, there have been no such actions of the sort that have been used by Israel in the past against Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel.
The security cabinet was scheduled to hold a special session on Thursday afternoon to discuss the recent escalation in violence and decide on a course of action. In the hours before that meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to hold security consultations with Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, the head of the Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted 30 of the recent incoming projectiles headed for population centers, the military said Thursday. Most of the remaining rockets landed in open fields, although some hit Sderot and other communities, causing injuries and damage.
In response to the attacks the Israeli military said it has bombed approximately 150 targets in the Gaza Strip.