Next war with Hamas ‘inevitable,’ must be Israel’s last, top defense official says
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Next war with Hamas ‘inevitable,’ must be Israel’s last, top defense official says

Hinting at new Gaza strategy after 3 conflicts in 7 years, senior source says ‘war of attrition is not an option’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Palestinian terrorists from the Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel, used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip, on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian terrorists from the Islamic Jihad's armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel, used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip, on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

A senior Defense Ministry official said Wednesday that the next round of fighting in the Gaza Strip against the Hamas terror group was inevitable, because Hamas is gearing up for it, and that it must be the last.

“A war of attrition is not an option. The next confrontation must be the last in terms of Hamas’s regime,” the senior official, who insisted on anonymity, told Israeli reporters at a briefing.

Israel has arguably been involved in a war of attrition against Hamas for years, with each side slowly grinding away at the other.

New Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has frequently criticized the government in recent years for failing to smash Hamas, and repeatedly called for more to be used in the course of the 2014 war, during which he was himself a member of the key security cabinet that oversaw the conflict.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman heads to the weekly cabinet meeting at Benajmin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on June 13, 2016. (Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman heads to the weekly cabinet meeting at Benajmin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on June 13, 2016. (Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

With strict border control and occasional large-scale operations, Israel works to deplete Hamas’s supply of weapons and fighters. Meanwhile Hamas, with rockets and “terror tunnels,” hopes to diminish Israeli resolve.

In the IDF’s last foray into the Gaza Strip, in a 50-day 2014 conflict known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, the goal was not to destroy Hamas but to deliver a “meaningful blow” to the terror organization and its tunnel network, according to the army’s own account.

An Israeli tank drives through an undisclosed area of the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge on July 31, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An Israeli tank drives through an undisclosed area of the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge on July 31, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Israel previously launched operations in Gaza in December 2008 and November 2012.

The official stressed that Israel does not seek another war, but says “Hamas is a growing threat.”

“Their goal is destroying the State of Israel,” he added.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) meets with IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) on May 31, 2016 (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) meets with IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) on May 31, 2016 (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

In his first meeting with senior generals after appointed as defense minister last month, Liberman hinted at a new strategy to deal with Hamas, suggesting he would not allow continued military conflicts in Gaza.

“We don’t have the luxury of conducting drawn-out wars of attrition,” Liberman told the Israel Defense Forces’ General Staff on his first day of the job.

The defense official also lashed out at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, describing him as “the number one problem for Israel,” and saying he was not interested in bringing abut a peace agreement.

“Abu Mazen isn’t interested in progressing anywhere or beginning any process [towards peace],” he said. “That man doesn’t have the public support or the will to reach any arrangement or agreement.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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