Touring communities in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed that Israel’s 2014 war against Hamas had produced “the two quietest years in a long time.”
He said “the rules of the game have changed” since the war, which Israel dubbed Operation Protective Edge.
Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and six civilians were killed in the 50-day conflict, along with over 2,000 Palestinians, of whom Israel says at least half were combatants.
Netanyahu said Hamas was dealt a hard and “unprecedented” blow during the war, touting a policy of “responding decisively to any violation of the calm” as crucial to maintaining deterrence two summers later.
“Quiet here equals quiet in Gaza,” while “an attack on us will lead to destruction and devastation on the other side of the fence,” added the prime minister, who in recent days has faced withering criticism from political rivals and bereaved parents over the degree of Israel’s preparedness for the war.
Netanyahu was visiting the border town of Sderot to mark the completion of a project, begun in 2008, to heavily fortify Gaza borer towns, providing new shelters and new safe rooms to families and communities that have often been targeted in rocket attacks.
While the two years since the end of the 2014 conflict have seen relative calm, Hamas has been working hard to replenish its arms and rebuild its cross-border tunnel infrastructure, much of which was destroyed by Israel.
On Wednesday Israeli defense and diplomatic officials said they believed Hamas was digging more than six miles of tunnels into Israel each month.
Israel located and destroyed two Hamas attack tunnels in April and May. Both were discovered in the southern Gaza Strip and ran into Israeli territory.
A number of tunnels were used by Hamas fighters to infiltrate Israel and carry out deadly attacks on troops during the 2014 conflict.
Since then, Israel invested an estimated NIS 1 billion (approximately $250 million) in developing detection technology to locate such tunnels.
Netanyahu has taken flak from rival politicians for the handling of the conflict ahead of its second anniversary.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett accused him Tuesday morning of refusing to learn from mistakes in the lead-up to the war.
“Every platoon leader draws conclusions at the end of an exercise in order to prevent future mistakes and to improve,” Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, wrote on Twitter. “What is true for an infantry division is doubly true for the diplomatic-security leadership of the State of Israel.”
An unnamed Likud official later said Bennett’s accusations were a “total lie.”
“Bennett’s comments sound nice. It’s a shame it’s a total lie,” the Likud official said.