Amid escalating rocket and incendiary balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gazan terror groups that Israel was prepared to take “crushing action” if the attacks continued.
“I want to make this clear: We won’t accept any aggression from Gaza. Just a few weeks ago, we took out the top commander of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and I suggest that Islamic Jihad and Hamas refresh their memories,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Sunday.
“I won’t lay out in detail all our actions and plans in the media, but we’re prepared for crushing action against the terror groups in Gaza. Our actions are powerful, and they’re not finished yet, to put it mildly.”
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett similarly issued a warning to Hamas leaders in Gaza, warning that Israel would take “lethal action against them” if their “irresponsible behavior” didn’t cease.
“Israel does not want a war with Hamas in Gaza, but we are committed to the safety of the residents of the south. The irresponsible behavior of Hamas’s leadership is bringing us closer to taking lethal action against them,” Bennett warned in a Hebrew-language video released following his visit to the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in the Gaza region on Sunday.
He warned that Israeli military action would be “unbearable” for Hamas.
“We won’t announce when or where. This action will be very different from those taken in the past. No one will be immune. Hamas faces a choice: choose life and economic prosperity, or choose terror and pay an unbearable price. Their actions will determine [which it will be].”
The comments came after Bennett made similar threats in a Saturday speech, saying he would aim to avoid sending Israeli troops into Gaza in a future war, but Israel’s airstrikes and other responses to terror attacks from Gaza would escalate. He said Israeli strikes following attacks from Gaza were now targeting rocket factories and other Hamas military infrastructure not only in response to rocket launches, but also in reaction to the launches of balloons attached to incendiary devices.
He said he was not interested in more two- or three-day rounds of violence with Hamas. Instead, he was working on plans for a “significant” offensive to be initiated at a time picked by Israel that would fundamentally change the current situation, without elaborating.
If there is no other choice, he added, he would also launch military operations in the more immediate future, from which “nobody in the Hamas leadership will be immune.”
The warnings from Israeli leaders come after yet another round of rocket and balloon attacks from Gaza over the weekend, with Palestinian terror groups firing at least one rocket into southern Israel on Saturday night that struck an open field, after which the IDF shelled two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip in retaliation.
According to the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, the projectile caused neither injury nor damage. As the rocket was not heading toward a populated area, it did not trigger sirens in Israeli communities. However, the IDF said, it set off alerts on cellphones in the area.
Earlier on Saturday, a suspected explosive device attached to a cluster of balloons that was apparently launched from Gaza was found in a field in the Merhavim Regional Council. A group of foreign workers who were reportedly not aware the object could be a bomb picked up the balloons, but the device did not explode.
The day before, at least six suspected airborne explosive device launched from Gaza were found in the south, including what appeared to be the warhead from a rocket-propelled grenade attached to balloons discovered in a field near Kibbutz Ruhama, northwest of Gaza, which police sappers were called to disarm.
Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip began flying explosive and incendiary devices into Israel using clusters of balloons and kites beginning in 2018. The practice has waxed and waned over time, but has picked up considerably in recent weeks, with dozens of these balloon-borne bombs landing in towns and farming communities adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.
The Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command on Friday released a poem for children warning them against the dangers of the balloon-borne bombs flown from Gaza.
מתיחות בדרום | ראש נפץ של RPG מחובר לבלונים נחת בשדות של קיבוץ רוחמה שבמועצה אזורית שער הנגב. מדובר בצרור בלוני הנפץ השישי שנחת היום בעוטף @bokeralmog
(צילום: יובל קניגספלד) pic.twitter.com/IaAcBHSbFO
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) February 7, 2020
In addition to being attached to colorful balloons, some of the explosive devices have been disguised as other child-friendly objects such as books and soccer balls.
Few injuries have been caused by these airborne attacks, but they have caused extensive damage to Israeli agricultural fields, parks and forests, especially during the country’s dry summer months.
On Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said the military would take a tougher stand against these airborne attacks, along with other types of terrorist activities.
Israeli defense officials believe that the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group is trying to increase pressure on Israel in a bid to extract greater concessions in ongoing ceasefire negotiations.
Fears have also mounted in recent days of an escalation of violence in Gaza and the West Bank following the release last month of a US peace plan that is seen as heavily favoring Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.