A lawmaker from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party said on Saturday that Israel was prepared to launch a military offensive in the Gaza Strip ahead of upcoming general elections “if need be,” as the premier continued to take flak from figures across the political spectrum over his handling of violence against Israel from the Palestinian territory.
Political rivals have charged that Israel has lost its deterrence vis-a-vis the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group in recent years under Netanyahu, who faced considerable criticism after two rockets were fired from the coastal enclave on Thursday night toward Tel Aviv for the first time since the 2014 war.
Israel said it struck some 100 targets in Gaza as a response to the launch of the two rockets, which the army has assessed were “accidentally” fired by low-level Hamas operatives, and a ceasefire was reported to have gone into effect Friday morning.
“In Hamas they are very, very concerned about an Israeli decision to strike them — the deterrence exists 100 percent,” Likud MK Yoav Kisch said at a cultural event in Petah Tikva on Saturday.
“The prime minister is dealing with the security issue as if there are no elections, and if need be we’ll conquer Gaza before the elections” on April 9, Kisch added.
Kisch said the retaliatory strikes exacted a “heavy price” from Hamas, who he insisted was wary of a major military conflict with Israel.
Members of the opposition Blue and White party, however, castigated Netanyahu over his policies toward Gaza.
“When people on the street tell me Bibi is a magician, I tell them he is a magician of one thing: He made Israel’s deterrence disappear,” MK Meir Cohen said, using a nickname for Netanyahu.
Orna Barbivai, a retired major general and Blue and White candidate, said Netanyahu had given up Israel’s “security advantage” since the 2014 war.
“On the one hand we need to strike Hamas, which is a brutal terror group, and other hand recognize the needs of the civilian population in Gaza, which itself is beginning to understand the need to oppose Hamas,” Barbivai said at an event in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono, referring to protests this week inside the Strip over economic conditions.
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay also criticized Netanyahu over Gaza, saying the security situation in southern Israel was “the worst ever” and vowing “to do exactly the opposite” as the premier.
In an unexpected show of support for Netanyahu, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich said her center-left colleagues were making a “big mistake” by calling for a more forceful military response to Gaza violence.
“The solution in Gaza is not a military but a diplomatic one. It is absurd that members of our bloc are attacking Netanyahu for his moderation,” she said at the event in Kiryat Ono.
“The fanning of the flames and the joining with the extreme right with calls for an escalation in Gaza is a serious mistake,” she added.
“We must make an effort to create a mini-[ceasefire] agreement and do everything possible so that there will be regime change [in Gaza], from which point we would be able to proceed toward a comprehensive and long-term ceasefire agreement,” Yachimovich explained.
The opposition criticism followed that of New Right party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of the security cabinet, who on Friday blasted Israel’s response to the rocket launches as “pathetic.”
“I have to tell the truth, I cannot imagine that after a mistake attack on Moscow, Putin would have explained to the Russians that the enemy ‘did it by mistake,’” Bennett said in a statement.
Bennett criticized Netanyahu, who is also defense minister, over his policy toward Hamas.
“They laugh at us. It’s not being taken seriously,” said Bennett, who unsuccessfully lobbied for the defense portfolio after Avigdor Liberman’s resignation in November to protest a ceasefire with Hamas.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on the other hand expressed backing for Netanyahu’s handling of violence in Gaza, while warning the situation was “heating up” there.
“This problem needs to be solved,” he said.
Kahlon also said Israel should “completely separate” from Gaza, but did not specify what this would mean. Israel pulled evacuated all the settlements in Gaza and pulled out its military forces in 2005