PM threatens Hamas with dire ‘surprise’; Gaza answers with fresh rocket attack

Israel’s response to wave of rocket, balloon attacks ‘will be different from anything that came before,’ Netanyahu warns in TV interview; no injuries in attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a tree planting event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat in the West Bank settlement of Mevo'ot Yericho, in the Jordan Valley, February 10, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a tree planting event for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat in the West Bank settlement of Mevo'ot Yericho, in the Jordan Valley, February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday threatened Hamas leaders with “the surprise of their lives” if a spate of attacks from the Gaza Strip didn’t come to an end. Minutes later, yet another rocket was fired from Gaza at Israel’s south.

“I’m telling you as prime minister, I don’t rush to war,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Channel 20 on Tuesday night. “I don’t puff out my chest, bang drums and blow trumpets. But we’re preparing for Hamas the surprise of their lives. I won’t say what it is, but it will be different from anything that came before.”

Whether Israel carries out its “surprise,” he added, “is entirely up to them. If they don’t come to their senses with the rockets and don’t stop the balloons, it’s only a matter of time before we deploy it. Remember what I’m telling you,” he said.

The last several weeks have seen a marked uptick in rocket and incendiary balloon attacks from the Strip, raising tensions and threatening fragile truce talks.

Shortly after Netanyahu finished speaking, the IDF reported a mortar shell had been fired from Gaza and landed in an open area in Israel’s south. No one was hurt in the attack.

Netanyahu’s was the latest in a series of warnings from Israeli leaders that rocket and incendiary balloon attacks from Gaza would be met with a dramatic military escalation. Thus far Israel has made do with tit-for-tat airstrikes on usually empty Hamas posts.

On Sunday, Netanyahu warned Gazan terror groups that Israel was prepared to take “crushing action.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd-R) attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 9, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

“I want to make this clear: We won’t accept any aggression from Gaza. Just a few weeks ago, we took out the top commander of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and I suggest that Islamic Jihad and Hamas refresh their memories,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem.

“I won’t lay out in detail all our actions and plans in the media, but we’re prepared for crushing action against the terror groups in Gaza. Our actions are powerful, and they’re not finished yet, to put it mildly.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett similarly issued a warning to Hamas leaders in Gaza, warning on Sunday that Israel would take “lethal action against them” if their “irresponsible behavior” didn’t cease.

He warned that Israeli military action would be “unbearable” for Hamas.

Screen capture of Defense Minister Naftali Bennett from a video he produced in which he warns of an Israeli response to Gaza rocket and incendiary balloon attacks, February 9, 2020. (Channel 12 screen capture)

“We won’t announce when or where. This action will be very different from those taken in the past. No one will be immune. Hamas faces a choice: choose life and economic prosperity, or choose terror and pay an unbearable price. Their actions will determine [which it will be].”

Observers see the return of rocket fire after several months of calm as an attempt by Gazans to press their demands that Israel ease or lift its blockade of the enclave in exchange for calm. Both sides insist they are not seeking a return to war.

An Egyptian security delegation that visited the Gaza Strip on Monday conveyed a message from Netanyahu to Hamas in which he demanded “a return to calm,” the Lebanese pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper reported, citing unnamed Palestinian sources.

Netanyahu’s message, which the Egyptian delegation received from Israeli security officials in Tel Aviv on Sunday, included a threat that Israel would “deliver a major blow to Hamas with American and international cover” if calm does not resume, the sources told the daily.

Hamas officials told the Egyptian delegation in response to Netanyahu’s message that it “does not seek an escalation,” but “the economic pressure that Gazans are experiencing and the failure to implement calming understandings will create greater pressure on the border region,” the sources said.

A spokesman for the armed wing of Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group talks to the press in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 11, 2019. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

“There will be no free calm as long as there is procrastination, delay and tightening [of restrictions],” the sources also quoted the Hamas officials as saying.

Since the second half of 2018, Egypt, alongside the United Nations and Qatar, has played a key role in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Israel.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the Strip and the Jewish state.

The Hamas officials also told the Egyptians that “the occupation doing anything stupid or assassinating resistance leaders would unleash a major war that would significantly impact the occupation’s state and leaders,” the sources added.

Illustrative: An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, is seen above Gaza City on November 13, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip began flying explosive and incendiary devices into Israel using clusters of balloons and kites beginning in 2018. The practice has waxed and waned over time, but has picked up considerably in recent weeks, with dozens of these balloon-borne bombs landing in towns and farming communities adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.

The Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command on Friday released a poem for children warning them against the dangers of the balloon-borne bombs flown from Gaza.

In addition to being attached to colorful balloons, some of the explosive devices have been disguised as other child-friendly objects such as books and soccer balls.

Few injuries have been caused by these airborne attacks, but they have caused extensive damage to Israeli agricultural fields, parks and forests, especially during the country’s dry summer months.

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