With a tense quiet prevailing over the south of Israel after a night of repeated rocket attacks, New Right chairman Naftali Bennett launched his party’s economic plan for the country’s southern residents Tuesday morning, railing against the government he serves in for having “given up” on both their security and welfare.
Speaking at a press conference in the southern town of Ashdod, the education minister implored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make him defense minister, “so I can deal with Hamas properly.” Netanyahu is currently holding the defense portfolio.
Hours after an unofficial ceasefire went into effect following the latest bout of warfare between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Bennett said that as defense minister, he would instead “open the gates of hell” on the terror group that controls the Strip.
“The IDF must be given the order to defeat Hamas, to uproot Hamas, to destroy its ability to harm the residents of the south — not to talk about deterrence, but to take Hamas’s sword and break it,” Bennett said.
“A ceasefire will cost us in blood,” he added grimly.
“After yesterday’s rocket attack on the center of the country, and then massive rocket fire on the south, we took out an empty building and told ourselves that Hamas was deterred, that they had not seen anything like this in 40 years. Then we rushed to plead for a ceasefire from those who caused all the shooting. Hamas must be crushed. There is a plan. I introduced it a long time ago and I ask the cabinet to adopt it,” Bennett said, declining to provide details.
On Monday, Israel carried out a bombing campaign against Hamas targets, including the office of leader Ismail Haniyeh, in response to a rocket attack earlier in the day from Gaza that destroyed a central Israeli home and injured seven people.
After firing around 30 rockets and mortar shells at Israel Monday evening, Hamas said it had accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement with Israel that went into effect at 10 p.m. But terrorists in the Strip continued to attack southern Israel through the night, with the army saying another 30 projectiles were launched between 10 p.m. and 3:15 a.m. There were no Israelis injured in the rocket attacks, though a home in the southern town of Sderot sustained a direct hit by a rocket that did not explode.
“I slept in the Gaza vicinity last night, as is my custom when there is an escalation. We were woken up over and over. I met children who are afraid of balloons, parents and children with anxiety, who aren’t able to fall asleep at night or function properly day to day,” Bennett said.
While reiterating his backing for Netanyahu as prime minister, even as he painted him as weak on security and preoccupied with politics, Bennett appealed to the public to give his New Right party enough support in the April 9 election “to make me defense minister and allow me to deal” with the security situation in Gaza.
“The two candidates for prime minister are busy day and night with embarrassing personal affairs, cellphones, submarines, interrogations, and whining about who gets more time in the media,” he said of Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
“Give me the keys, I know what to do. I know what to implement. I know what to replace. I know whom to replace,” he said.
Asked by The Times of Israel if he was referring to the IDF’s military leadership, Bennett said he would indeed like to see “generals who don’t compromise” promoted to senior positions, adding quickly that he had full trust in the current IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
Segueing to his party’s “New South” financial plan, which he and New Right number three Alona Barkat had scheduled for presentation Tuesday before the Gaza escalation, Bennett said that “if the government cannot provide security, it must at least provide the residents here with compensation for the failure.”
According to the plan, tax exemptions provided to residents living near the Gaza border, known as Front Line Benefits, will be extended from the current 7 kilometer catchment area to 40 kilometers, in order to include residents of Ashkelon and Ashdod.
“They don’t count you, because to count you means they have to pay for you. I will make sure you get everything you deserve. Money, not rockets. And when I promise, I fulfill,” said Barkat, who owns the Hapoel Beersheba soccer club and who Bennett said Tuesday would be a “senior social minister in the next government.”
“I came to politics for the exact same reason I came to soccer. Because the south gets ignored. I changed it with soccer, I will change it with politics too,” she said, referring to Hapoel Beersheba’s domination in the Israeli Premier League under her ownership.
“If you put me in the government next to Netanyahu, I will do it for you,” she said, addressing “my neighbors of the south.”