Netanyahu vows to respond ‘forcefully’ to rocket attack, cuts short US trip

Netanyahu vows to respond ‘forcefully’ to rocket attack, cuts short US trip

After expected Monday signing of US declaration on Golan at White House, PM will return to Israel ‘to oversee our response’ to Gaza attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would cut short his trip to the United States on Monday after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a residential building in central Israel early Monday morning, injuring seven people, including two infants, and leveling the structure.

“A few minutes ago I finished a briefing and consultation with the chief of staff [of the IDF], the head of the Shin Bet and the national security adviser,” Netanyahu said in a hastily released video from Washington. “This was a criminal attack on Israel and we will respond forcefully,” he vowed.

He said he would stay in Washington just long enough to meet US President Donald Trump on Monday morning local time, “and immediately afterward return to Israel to oversee our response first-hand.”

The prime minister is to meet Trump at the White House for the expected signing of an order recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

He will also conduct a “working meeting” with Trump, which will focus on “Iranian aggression, Iran’s attempts to establish military bases in Syria, and how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” according to an earlier statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “The two will also discuss strengthening security and intelligence cooperation.”

A home in the central Israeli town of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on March 25, 2019. (Fired and Rescue Services)

Netanyahu was set to address some 18,000 people at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference in Washington on Tuesday morning, and in the evening was due to attend a dinner at the White House.

In Netanyahu’s absence — in keeping with an Israeli law that says a prime minister or an acting replacement must always remain on Israeli soil to lead cabinet meetings if the PM is detained abroad — Tourism Minister Yariv Levin is currently the temporary acting prime minister. Since Levin is not a member of the cabinet’s national security committee, the so-called “security cabinet,” however, before he left for Washington Netanyahu appointed Absorption Minister Yoav Galant to lead that forum, which is in charge of authorizing military operations, in his stead.

Netanyahu’s decision to return to Israel followed criticism from election rivals in the hours after the attack.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, himself in Washington to address AIPAC on Monday morning, called on Netanyahu to immediately return to Israel and deal with the security situation. Other lawmakers also called for stern action against terror group Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza, in response to the rocket fire.

“Netanyahu has lost his grip on security and Israeli citizens are again facing sirens and a direct hit on a house, this time in the Sharon [region],” Gantz said in a statement.

The attack triggered air raid sirens at approximately 5:20 a.m. throughout the Sharon and Emek Hefer regions north of Tel Aviv, the army said. According to the military, the rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip, where earlier this month two rockets were also fired at Tel Aviv, in what was described at the time as an apparent “mistake” by the Hamas terror group.

“This is bankruptcy when it comes to security, and Netanyahu needs to pack up immediately and go back to Israel to deal with this serious escalation,” Gantz said. “Will he still be satisfied with Hamas’s announcement of a mistake or will he finally concentrate on the security of the country’s citizens and not on his legal troubles? Someone who doesn’t respond aggressively and forcefully, and pays protection money to Hamas, will get rockets on the Sharon.”

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