Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said that it is up to Hamas and the residents of Gaza to determine if there will be a new round of violence amid increased tensions with and around the Hamas-run Strip.
“We want the local population to live its life quietly and calmly, but the decision on whether there will be quiet in Gaza depends first of all on Gaza,” Netanyahu said in an address at a graduation ceremony for air force pilots at the Hatzerim base in southern Israel.
“We will not tolerate any escalation by Hamas or any other terrorist element against the State of Israel. We will use all means necessary to protect our sovereignty and the security of Israeli citizens,” he added.
The comments came three days after senior defense officials reportedly told ministers at briefing that the Hamas terror group ruling Gaza has no interest in starting another conflict with Israel, but the situation may nonetheless get out of hand.
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Ministers told Hadashot news station they were informed by the military of a feeling of despair in Gaza due to the persistent humanitarian crisis there, the failure of the reconciliation deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and the ongoing tensions in recent weeks over Jerusalem after US President Donald Trump recognized the city as the capital of Israel.
Hamas responded to Trump’s December 6 announcement by calling for a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel. The terrorist group has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence since the announcement. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh has urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain that the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.
Since the announcement, there was an uptick in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at Israel, which has since mostly subsided.
The prime minister also addressed the status of the air force at the Wednesday ceremony, which he said is currently “at its peak.” He added that Israel has the best planes in the world, ones capable of hitting distant targets, apparently referring to Israel’s newly acquired F-35 stealth jets.
Netanyahu stressed, once again, that Israel would not allow the Iranian army to establish itself in Syria. “We will act to prevent the production of accurate and lethal weapons aimed at us.”
Earlier this month, Arab media reports widely quoted in Hebrew media said Israel fired missiles at a military base Iran has been building near the Syrian city of al-Qiswa overnight, reportedly destroying an arms depot.
Some media outlets affiliated with the Assad regime and Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah initially reported that Israeli warplanes targeted an ammunition bunker belonging to the Syrian Army. But other media outlets reported that the target was a military base that Iran is building in the area, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Israeli border, and that loud explosions were heard after the attack.
Israel has long warned that Iran is trying to establish a permanent presence in Syria as part of its efforts to control a land corridor from Iran through to the Mediterranean Sea as it attempts to expand its influence across the Middle East. Netanyahu has said often that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a permanent presence in Syria, and was reported last week to have sent a warning to this effect via a third party to Syrian President Bashar Assad.