Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said Wednesday that in his view, Israel will at some point need to conquer the Gaza Strip in order to disarm the Hamas terror group.
His remarks came after Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip launched thousands of rockets at Israel since last Monday. Israel has responded by conducting hundreds of airstrikes on targets in the Palestinian enclave amid increasing pressure from the international community for a ceasefire.
“Nobody will disarm Hamas unless we do it by force,” Steinitz told the Ynet news site, suggesting what would be a significant escalation of the conflict, as Israeli military action is so far limited to airstrikes.
“There will be no way to avoid one day temporarily taking over Gaza,” he said. “That day has not arrived for all kinds of reasons. I think the day will come, if not now then in the coming years.”
Steinitz acknowledged that others in the government don’t share his view.
“That idea comes with heavy costs; that’s why I understand those who think differently from me,” he said.
For the time being, Steinitz said, he favors a unilateral ceasefire over a deal with Hamas, the ruler of Gaza, as the Palestinian side cannot be trusted to keep to a truce.
As soon as there is any kind of internal rivalry inside Gaza, “each side will want to show that it is more violent or more daring; they will violate it [an agreement] without blinking,” he said.
“I am against conditions,” Steinitz added. “I am among those who think think there is no need to strive for another agreement with Hamas.”
He refused to speculate on when the current fighting may end in order to not “give the other side a timetable.”
“I won’t talk about the question of whether it is days, or weeks or months,” he said. “Uncertainty on the other side is a tool in this war.”
Various international actors are continuing their efforts to reach a ceasefire.
A UN Security Council meeting broke up earlier Tuesday without issuing a statement, but France then said it had proposed a more forceful resolution calling for a ceasefire, in coordination with Israel’s neighbors Egypt and Jordan.
If introduced, it would force the Biden administration to issue its first Security Council veto if it wants to continue blocking such efforts in the top UN body.
While Channel 12 reported that an Egyptian ceasefire initiative had borne fruit and was slated to go into effect on Thursday morning, officials on all sides issued subsequent denials.
A diplomatic source familiar with Egypt’s efforts told The Times of Israel that negotiations were still ongoing and no such agreement had been reached.
Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl, have been killed in the rocket fire from Gaza, and hundreds have been injured.
According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, at least 212 Palestinians have been killed in the nine days of the conflict, including more than 60 children. It was not immediately clear if this ministry tally included all of those killed or if there were Hamas operatives not included in the count. According to the IDF, more than 120 of those killed were members of Hamas and over 25 were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as of Monday night.
The last time Israel fought a ground war in Gaza was in the summer of 2014 during Operation Protective Edge.