Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday threatened to step up Israel’s response to rocket attacks from Gaza as he huddled with security chiefs amid a fragile calm on the restive border.
“I can tell you we are prepared to do a lot more. We will do what is necessary to defend our people and to defend our state,” he told a conference of 18,000 pro-Israel activists at a conference in Washington via satellite.
Netanyahu was originally scheduled to address AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference in person, but on Monday cut short his trip to DC in light of the volatile security situation in Israel.
While in Washington, he authorized the Israeli Air Force to launch a large-scale retaliatory bombing campaign, destroying dozens of targets, including the offices of Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City.
“We responded with great force,” he said, speaking via a shaky satellite connection from the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he headed immediately upon landing in Israel. “In the last 24 hours, the IDF destroyed major Hamas terrorist installations on a scale not seen since the end of the military operation in Gaza four years ago.”
Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC came as he was in Tel Aviv for security consultations with IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and other top defense officials. He continued the consultations after the speech.
The latest round of violence was kindled when, just after dawn on Monday, a rocket from the southern Gaza Strip that Israel says was fired by Hamas struck a home in the town of Mishmeret, northeast of Tel Aviv, leveling the building.
Two of the people inside were moderately wounded and five others, including two small children, were lightly injured.
It was the farthest-reaching rocket strike from the Strip since the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.
Netanyahu has been criticized by some political rivals and others for not pushing back against Gaza’s Hamas rulers hard enough.
Israeli troops and tanks along the Gaza border remained at the ready on Tuesday afternoon, hours after an unofficial ceasefire went into effect following the latest bout of warfare between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas terror group in the coastal enclave.
Minutes before landing in Israel, a senior official in Netanyahu’s entourage told reporters that Israel did not agree to a ceasefire with Hamas, and is ready to continue its airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip.
“There was no ceasefire,” the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Netanyahu was in constant contact with the IDF chief of staff and other security officials throughout the 12-hour flight back to Israel, the official added.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.