‘Mistaken’ cabinet members holding back army from hitting Hamas, says Liberman

Defense minister declares there can be no arrangement reached with Gaza-based terror group to end border violence

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, October 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party in the Knesset, October 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that there is no way to reach a negotiated agreement with the Hamas terror group that would end months of violence on the Gaza border, yet the cabinet has been holding back from a military campaign.

Liberman, who has repeatedly called for a strong blow against Hamas to convince the de facto rulers of Gaza to restore quiet along the border, clarified that any such action would not include a ground operation.

His comments came as tensions along the restive border once again ramped up, following a weekend that saw heavy rocket fire on Israeli communities in the south and retaliatory strikes from the IDF, threatening to bring the sides back to the brink of war.

Weeks of Egyptian-mediated negotiations have so far failed to bring calm between the two sides.

“I think that some of the cabinet members are captive to mistaken concepts, and we know where those roads lead to,” Liberman said at the opening of his Yisrael Beytenu party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset. “Anyone banking on an agreement with Hamas is seriously mistaken.

“There is no way to reach an agreement with Hamas, and without delivering the hardest blow we can, there will be no quiet in the south,” he continued, noting, however, that the decision as to whether to strike Hamas was not his alone.

“Every action that is likely to lead to a broader campaign is a cabinet decision,” he said. “I admit that most the cabinet doesn’t think like me. For a few months already I have thought that a blow like this is needed.”

Liberman stressed there is no need for a ground operation.

“We have enough means to restore the quiet and calm without a ground operation. Even if we kill all of the 40,000 Hamas and [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad activists, it is not worth losing a single Israeli soldier.”

Damage at the Erez border crossing caused by a mortar launched by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip is seen on October 27, 2018. (Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories)

Liberman rejected media reports that have quoted ministers accusing the IDF, and in particular chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, of failing to present the cabinet with any viable military options.

“The IDF presented all of the operational plans,” Liberman said. “Things were presented to the cabinet in writing and orally. I volunteer to buy glasses and a hearing aid for anyone who claims that goals and operational plans were not presented to the cabinet.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most ministers, along with senior figures in the defense establishment, reportedly want to return the border situation to the way it was before violence escalated in March, without being dragged into a wider conflict.

The defense minister also declared his support for Israeli activists who briefly blocked trucks carrying goods and fuel into Gaza earlier in the day in protest of the government’s lack of success in quelling the violence.

A much larger group of residents from the Gaza border communities demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Sunday night, blocking major roads in protest of a wave of rockets fired over the weekend and the government’s inaction over the threats emanating from Gaza.

A Palestinian waves a flag during a demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 22, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

On Sunday, Israel killed three Gazans in an airstrike on what the military said was a group planting explosives along the border. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the same terror group that took responsibility for the weekend rocket attacks, vowed to avenge their deaths. Israel had responded to the rocket fire by bombing some 80 Hamas and PIJ targets across Gaza.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in near-daily Hamas-led protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Over 160 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.

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