Netanyahu tours IDF’s Gaza Division, says Israel is ‘in a military campaign’
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Netanyahu tours IDF’s Gaza Division, says Israel is ‘in a military campaign’

Army shoots at Palestinians launching fire balloons at Israel, reportedly injuring 2; defense minister says the government is working calmly and not buckling to outside pressure

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

From right, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Military Secretary to the Prime Minister Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano and head of the Shin Bet Nadav Argaman speak during a visit to the IDF's Gaza Division on July 17, 2018, amid an increase in violence from the Gaza Strip. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
From right, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Military Secretary to the Prime Minister Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano and head of the Shin Bet Nadav Argaman speak during a visit to the IDF's Gaza Division on July 17, 2018, amid an increase in violence from the Gaza Strip. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday toured the army’s Gaza Division following a violent flareup with the Gaza-based Hamas terror group over the weekend, declaring that Israel was in the midst of a “military campaign,”

“We are in a military campaign in which there have been exchanges of blows. I am prepared to say that the Israel Defense Forces is prepared for any scenario,” Netanyahu said.

Over the weekend, Hamas fired some 200 rockets and mortar shells at Israel and the IDF carried out multiple strikes inside the Palestinian enclave.

On Saturday night, a ceasefire of sorts was brokered by Egypt and other international bodies, though Israel was not directly involved in the talks. The violence has abated, but tensions endured and cross-border attacks continued.

People at the scene where a courtyard of a house was hit by a Gaza rocket in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Asked if Israel was working to prevent a military conflict with Hamas, Netanyahu defended the government’s actions.

“I believe that we are doing the right things. It would be worthwhile to pay attention not only to what we are saying, but to what we are doing,” he said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who visited the Gaza Division alongside the prime minister, also defended the government’s policies and denied claims that they were motivated by political considerations.

“We have heard a lot of talk yesterday, today, two days ago, about the security policies of the Israeli government. So first of all, it should be clarified that security policies cannot be a response to political or media pressure. We are acting forcefully and wisely,” Liberman said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with senior IDF officers during an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip on July 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“What is needed today is a cool head and nerves of steel, not a stopwatch and media hysteria. We are doing what is necessary to do, and the IDF is prepared for every eventuality,” the defense minister added.

Netanyahu and Liberman were joined in the visit by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and the head of the Shin Bet security service, Nadav Argaman.

While the senior officials were meeting in the Gaza Division on Tuesday, a number of incendiary and apparently booby-trapped balloons were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip, including one that landed in the courtyard of a school.

In response to the arson attacks, an Israeli drone conducted an airstrike near a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons from the northern Gaza Strip, injuring two of them, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet.

Incendiary balloons are flown toward Israel during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The Israeli military confirmed that one of its aircraft carried out the strike.

According to Shehab, the balloon launchers were operating near the border, east of Gaza City, when the airstrike occurred. The extent of their injuries were not immediately known.

In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces has stepped up this practice, after the security cabinet called on it to take a more forceful stance against the airborne arson attacks on Sunday.

It was unclear if this was having an immediate effect on the number of incendiary devices being launched into Israel.

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, Defense Minister Liberman issued an apparent threat to Hamas, during a visit to a military exercise in southern Israel simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip.

“Should we have to go to war, we will be able to defeat any enemy. The Israel Defense Forces knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it,” the defense minister said.

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Recent months have seen daily arson attacks from Gaza with incendiary kites and balloons that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land; regular riots and clashes along the border, which have resulted in over 130 Palestinians killed by IDF gunfire; and occasional outbursts of mortar and rocket fire by Gaza terrorist groups, which have prompted dozens of Israeli retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas positions.

This violence has raised tensions between Israel and Hamas to the highest they have been since the 2014 Gaza war.

Following the flareup over the weekend and continued airborne arson attacks, Israel severely limited the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing and has threatened further action if the stream of kites and balloons does not stop.

In recent days, many officials and commentators in Israel, Gaza and the international community have warned that another war in the Palestinian enclave was imminent in light of increased violence along the border, unless actions were taken to calm the situation.

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Sunday, the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division launched an exercise simulating a war in the Gaza Strip, including the capture of Gaza City, which the military said was planned in advance and was not related to the weekend’s exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas.

However, the manner in which the exercise was publicized by the military led many to see it as a tacit threat to Hamas.

During Liberman’s visit to observe the exercise on Tuesday, he appeared to respond to criticism that Israel has allowed Hamas, which rules Gaza, to dictate the course of recent events.

“We will set the rules of the game and no one else,” the defense minister said.

Liberman also praised the officers and soldiers participating in the exercise, saying he was “very impressed by their preparedness and motivation.”

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Monday, the security cabinet was briefed on the Home Front Command’s preparedness for conflict, while the army deployed additional Iron Dome Missile Defense systems in central and southern Israel and called up some reserve forces to better handle security needs.

The deployment came as part of the army’s preparations for the possibility that Hamas will instruct its operatives to fire long-range rockets at the heart of Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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