Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel was doing its utmost to prevent “unnecessary wars” with the Gaza Strip, but maintained that diplomacy was futile with the Hamas leaders of the Palestinian enclave, even amid an international effort to broker a calm in the restive area.
At a press conference in Paris, where the prime minister had attended the 100th anniversary commemorations of the end of World War I along with other world leaders, Netanyahu laid out his security plan for the Gaza Strip — short-term calm, followed by a long-term ceasefire, but no final diplomatic deal with the terrorist group that is the de facto ruler in the beleaguered enclave.
“There is no diplomatic solution for Gaza, just as there is no diplomatic solution for ISIS,” said Netanyahu.
“I am doing everything I can to avoid an unnecessary war,” said the prime minister, pointing to the deaths of millions during the First World War as an example of senseless bloody warfare. “I am not afraid of war if it’s necessary, but I want to avoid it if it’s not necessary.”
The comments came amid a reprieve in violence along the Israel-Gaza border and intensive internationally brokered negotiations to secure a ceasefire agreement between the Jewish state and Hamas, a terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction..
Weekly Gaza border protests, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have been going on since March 30 and have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks, bombings and attempted border breaches as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. Southern Israel has also seen sporadic aggressive rocket bombardments from the Gaza Strip.
Egypt, alongside United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, has recently played a key role in attempts to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and the armed groups in the Strip.
Egyptian mediators have been working intensively to maintain calm, and also hope to bring about national reconciliation between the Hamas terror group, which seized Gaza by force in 2007, and the West Bank-based administration of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Asked by reporters whether the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza was “unnecessary,” the prime minister replied that it was a crucial preemptive strike to undermine Hamas’s growing tunnel and undersea military infrastructure. But the current situation was different, he said.
After recent violence flared on the border, Netanyahu said Israel’s army was a “step away” from going to war with Gaza — but Hamas quickly changed direction.
“We were a step away from exercising maximal [military] power,” said Netanyahu. “Hamas understood this and wised up.”
He also defended cash shipments from Qatar to Gaza, saying it was a “cabinet decision” designed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the beleaguered Strip.
On Friday, $15 million in Qatari cash entered the Gaza Strip in several suitcases to pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants in Gaza in a bid to ease tensions in the impoverished territory, the first of several planned payments.
The move, approved by Israel, was swiftly and publicly criticized by the right-wing ministers who ostensibly permitted the measure.
Defending the decision, the prime minister said Israel was doing everything in its power to keep the border region calm and avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Netanyahu said “there is supposed to be oversight of the money,” after critics charged the funds would be misused by the terror group. “I hope the mechanism [for oversight] improves but we are allowing the renewal of terms that existed beforehand. I am doing this to avoid an unnecessary war.”
The prime minister in the past has condemned the transfer of money to Hamas.
The security cabinet has a two-level approach to Gaza, continued Netanyahu, saying it was first seeking to quell the border tensions, followed by a long-term truce. The return of captive Israelis and the bodies of IDF soldiers held by the Gaza terror group would only come in the second stage, he said.
“Will it work?” he said of a ceasefire. “It’s too early to say.”
Hamas says the Israeli-Egyptian blockade over the Strip must be lifted and has vowed to continue the weekly protests, in which more than 160 Palestinians have been killed since March. The terror group has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. A Palestinian sniper killed an Israeli soldier in July.
In his remarks in Paris, the prime minister also said Israel serves as the “brakes on the spread of radical Islam toward Europe.”
Agencies contributed to this report.