Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar on Saturday lambasted Israel’s reaction to the previous day’s rocket attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip, saying action “should be far more severe than that which was taken.”
The rare criticism coming from within the prime minister’s party of his government’s policies was voiced by a Likud senior member seen as a potential challenger to Benjamin Netanyahu, as the premier’s political future remains uncertain.
“Israel’s goal should be to dismantle Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s military infrastructure in Gaza,” Sa’ar said. “That is one of the reasons why the political crisis must be brought to an end quickly and a broad unity government must be formed.”
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is attempting to form a government after Netanyahu failed to do so within 28 days of the election. Both Blue and White and the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party have called for a unity government with Likud, but Netanyahu and Gantz’s parties have failed to agree on the terms — nor on who should lead such a government.
Gantz on Saturday said “a government under my leadership will not tolerate a threat to the residents of the south and will not accept any harm to its sovereignty. We will bring back deterrence at any cost, even if we must personally hit those who are leading the escalation.”
But he added that so long as the present caretaker government is in charge, “we will support and back any policy of a resolute and responsible response to bring about long-term quiet to the residents of the south.”
New Right MK Naftali Bennett, meanwhile, tweeted on Saturday evening that Israel “is in a state of national emergency” and called on both men to compromise and form a government.
“We cannot delay for long the deep treatment required in Gaza,” he said, as the country also faces threats from Iran in the north. “Israel mustn’t go to a third election that will paralyze us and prevent urgent security and civil action.”
Meanwhile Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi called Saturday for a large-scale military operation in Gaza “including the elimination of Hamas leaders.” He said residents “have lived in this reality of ‘normalized emergency’ for nearly two years, and it’s long past time it was put to an end.”
MK Yair Lapid, Gantz’s No. 2, and Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman on Saturday both blamed Netanyahu for the latest rocket fire.
Ten rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel Friday night, one of which struck a home in the southern city of Sderot. The rockets fired from Gaza set off warning sirens in Sderot and other communities in Israel’s south as many families were gathering for Shabbat dinner.
The Israel Defense Forces said seven rockets were fired in the initial barrage, all of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.
About an hour later, another three rockets were fired into Israel and the Iron Dome intercepted one. One of the rockets hit a home, causing serious damage but no injuries.
On Saturday the army said it had changed the deployment of its Iron Dome batteries near Gaza in preparation for possible further attacks.
Israel responded with airstrikes in Gaza, which reportedly killed one Palestinian and wounded two others.
The IDF said the strikes hit “a wide range” of Hamas targets, including a naval base, a military compound and a weapons manufacturing plant.
Following the strikes, the Gaza-ruling Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations warned Israel of possible consequences.
Meanwhile, an unnamed senior Hamas figure told Haaretz the rocket launches were carried out without Hamas’s approval and were not the work of one of the major Palestinian factions.
Quoting Palestinian sources, Israel’s Channel 13 news reported that Hamas distanced itself from the rocket fire and told Egyptian mediators it was probing who was responsible.
There have been repeated bouts of violence between Hamas and Israel over the past year as the Islamists have sought to improve on the terms of a UN- and Egyptian-brokered truce first hammered out in November last year.
In return for Hamas silencing the rockets, Israel agreed to a package of measures to ease the crippling blockade it has imposed on Gaza for more than a decade. Israel maintains the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from entering Gaza that could be used to attack the Jewish state.
The measure included allowing in millions of dollars in aid from Hamas ally Qatar to pay for fuel for the territory’s sole power station and cash for salaries and grants to tens of thousands of needy families.
The truce has also seen Israel expand the distance it allows Gaza fishermen out into the Mediterranean — although it reduces it or even cuts it to zero in response to violence from the enclave.
The concessions authorized by Netanyahu have been criticized by his opponents, including by Gantz.
Adam Rasgon and AFP contributed to this report.