Netanyahu threatens Gaza, Iran after flareups on two fronts

After IDF strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, Hamas terrorists in coastal enclave, PM tells troops Israel is ready for every scenario and any escalation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets soldiers during a visit to the Shizafon army base, on January 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets soldiers during a visit to the Shizafon army base, on January 23, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday threatened the Gaza Strip after an escalation of violence on the border, saying that Israel was ready for all possible scenarios.

“Maybe there is someone in Gaza who thinks they can raise their head, but I suggest they understand that the response will be serious and very painful. We are prepared for every scenario and every escalation,” he told soldiers during a visit to the Shizafon army base in the south of the country.

Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, also threatened Iran and vowed to fight the country’s forces in Syria.

“Iran is the main enemy, and has declared its intention to destroy us with nuclear weapons, which we are committed to thwarting,” he said. “But Iran is also building forces around us, and they have established a front in Lebanon through Hezbollah, and they have established a southern fortress in Gaza, which is maintained by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

“And now they wish to build a third fortress in the Golan Heights, based on the establishment of the Iranian military. We are committed to fighting all these things and to fighting the Iranian army in Syria.”

On Sunday, Israel reportedly conducted a rare daylight missile attack on Iranian targets in Syria. In response, Iran fired a surface-to-surface missile at the northern Golan Heights, which was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Hermon ski resort, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

An explosion, reportedly during Israeli airstrikes near Damascus, Syria, on January 21, 2019. (screen capture: YouTube)

Netanyahu’s speech also came after the Israeli Air Force launched airstrikes against multiple Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday night, following two border clashes earlier in the day, including one in which a sniper shot an IDF officer in his helmet, causing light injuries, the army said.

The IDF said the raids targeted “a number of terror targets in a military base belonging to the Hamas terror group in the northern Gaza Strip.”

The Israeli military did not indicate who it believed fired the shots, but said it held Hamas responsible for the violence along the border on Tuesday, as the terror group has ruled Gaza since taking control of the enclave in 2007 by ousting the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

“The IDF is prepared and ready to act against any terrorist action from the Gaza Strip and is determined to defend the citizens of the State of Israel,” the army said in a statement.

Hamas accused Israel of escalating the situation, saying it was “fully responsible” for the uptick in violence.

“The valiant resistance will not allow our people’s blood to be used as fuel for Israeli election campaigns, and it possesses the will and means to safeguard our great people’s blood and interests,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, referring to the Knesset elections in April.

In addition to the airstrikes, Israel halted a previously approved $15 million transfer to Hamas from Qatar.

“Following the recent incidents in the Gaza Strip, and with consultation with security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to allow the transfer of Qatari money to the Gaza Strip tomorrow,” an Israeli diplomatic official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A Hamas official told The Times of Israel that “Netanyahu’s decision to prevent their entry is a crime that will push Gaza toward an explosion.”

Qatar had been preparing to transfer $15 million in payouts to Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip. It was the third such installment for the terror group to be approved by the Israeli government, in what officials see as a pressure-release valve intended to calm unrest and ease a potential humanitarian crisis in the beleaguered Strip.

The transfer of the funds to Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, is widely unpopular in Israel. The announcement by the diplomatic official was a rare admission by the government that it had indeed approved the payments.

The funds were expected to be transferred on Wednesday, after they were initially stalled by Israel last week in response to another flare up in cross-border violence, Qatar’s envoy to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, told the Reuters news service.

Since March, Palestinians have been holding regular protests on the border. Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the demonstrations as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence.

Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.

Judah Ari Gross and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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