Amid fears of new Gaza war, PM threatens to step up response to arson attacks

After Gaza rocket fire, army chief says Israel will ‘strike those who wish us harm,’ vows to ‘bring back security’ to south

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at a graduation ceremony for new IDF officers on June 20, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot at a graduation ceremony for new IDF officers on June 20, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday warned Hamas that Israel’s response to the ongoing balloon arson attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip will “intensify as needed.”

“The intensity will increase as necessary,” he said at graduation ceremony for new IDF officers. “We are prepared for every scenario, and its best that our enemies understand this, and now.”

“The steel fist of the IDF will powerfully strike anyone who attempts to harm us,” Netanyahu added.

Speaking at the same event, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the army is working “around the clock” to fend off attacks and protect Israeli citizens.

“The events of the past few weeks in the north and the south demonstrate how volatile things are. The IDF works around the clock with a power that is known to our enemies,” he said.

“We will continue to strike those who wish us harm and will bring back security to the residents of the south, as it is in other parts of the country. I am convinced that we will achieve this quickly, with wisdom and determination,” Eisenkot said.

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israeli forces on June 18, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Their remarks came as a member of the security cabinet said Israel was possibly on the way to a war with Gaza that would be the “end” for the Hamas terror group’s rule over the Strip, blaming “foreign parties” such as the Palestinian Authority and Iran for the latest escalation of tensions in Israel’s south.

“We can’t know how it ends, when it ends, but it looks like we are on the way to an escalation,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Hadashot news channel, after Palestinians fired at least 45 rockets at Israel overnight and the IDF struck dozens of targets in the coastal enclave.

Referring to the last war in Gaza, in the summer of 2014, Steinitz said the current flare-up could “reach the levels of [Operation] Protective Edge number two, and I believe it will be different. I think this time it will be the end of the story for Hamas’s rule over Gaza. We don’t want to go there, but it certainly looks like it’s going to a very bad place.”

Asked if his words were a message to Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar that it would be the end of the terror group, Steinitz answered: “I think that should be our goal if we are again forced into an all-out confrontation in Gaza.”

Gaza’s woes have been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting off payments for electricity supplies to the enclave. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and attempts at reconciliation with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority have failed.

“They may be under the false impression that if we are forced to operate in Gaza, we will pay less attention to preventing their entrenchment in Syria,” he threatened.

Veteran Hadashot TV news military analyst Roni Daniel said the increasing flare-ups are pushing Israel towards launching a military operation.

“Israel is nearing a decisive moment where it will need to determine a significant response,” he said.

An Israeli firefighter tries to extinguish a blaze in a field close to Kibbutz Nir Am near the border with the Gaza Strip on June 20, 2018, after it was set sparked by incendiary kites flown from the Palestinian enclave. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Earlier Wednesday, the IDF declared it was “prepared for an all-out confrontation in Gaza if Hamas continues to introduce new game rules,” following a security briefing with Liberman.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel. Three fires were reported in Israeli communities close to the Gaza border on Wednesday.

Around midnight on Tuesday, Israeli jets bombed three Hamas positions in the Strip in response to numerous airborne arson attacks by Gazans earlier in the day.

Minutes later, Palestinians in the Strip launched the first of many rocket and mortar barrages at southern Israel, triggering sirens throughout the area and sending thousands into bomb shelters.

Over the course of the next four hours, some 45 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel, with at least six exploding inside communities, causing damage but no injuries.

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