PM briefs foreign ambassadors on possible Gaza ground operation to ‘reassert Israeli deterrence’

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calls on both sides ‘to refrain from exacerbating the situation,’ hails Egyptian mediation efforts

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) with EU diplomats in Jerusalem, October 16 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) with EU diplomats in Jerusalem, October 16 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday started taking steps to shore up international support for a possible military ground operation into Gaza that would aim to quell the ongoing rocket fire from the strip.

“The world must understand that Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens,” he told some 50 ambassadors in Ashkelon.

“We will not sit idly in front of recurrent attacks that occur almost daily, against our citizens and our children. “More than one million citizens have to live in a reality where within 15 or 30 seconds they need to find shelter against terrorists who shoot at civilians, while the terrorists themselves hide behind civilians. That’s a double war crime. None of your governments would accept such a situation. We do not accept such a situation,and  I as prime minister of Israel am not prepared to accept this situation, and we will act to stop it.”

The rocket fire continued for a third day Monday, albeit initially at a slower pace; as of early Monday afternoon, some 150 rockets and mortar shells had hit Israel since Saturday. Twenty-six people were treated for shock after a direct hit on a home in Netivot on Monday morning.

“Netanyahu wants to make sure that the international community will understand the reasons if Israel is forced to act,” a government official said Monday ahead of the prime minister’s meeting with the senior diplomats.

The government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, neither denied nor confirmed reports that Israel was planning a ground invasion into Gaza. “Different options are being looked at,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s more than possible that there will be a need to reassert Israeli deterrence,” the official said.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Sunday that an extensive ground operation for Gaza was being planned.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she condemned the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel and called on both sides “to refrain from exacerbating the situation.”

“Further regrettable loss of life and injury must be avoided. I support the mediation efforts by Egypt and reiterate that there is no place for violence in the Middle East. It is only through resumed negotiations that the legitimate aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis will be met, through a two-state solution,” Ashton said in a statement.

The French Foreign Ministry similarly condemned the rocket fire into Israel and called, asking both sides to exercise ” great restraint to avoid any additional escalation.”

During Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to “intensify” its response to the ongoing rocket fire. “The IDF is operating, and will operate, aggressively against the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, which are taking heavy blows from the IDF. The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit idly by in the face of attempts to attack us. We are prepared to intensify the response

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would not hesitate to reenter Gaza: “If we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to deal Hamas a [serious] blow and restore security for all of Israel’s citizens, then we will not hesitate to do so.”


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