Projecting unity, Netanyahu and Gallant warn foes not to test Israel after attacks

PM appears at scene of terror attack alongside defense minister he fired last month, amid tense calm on northern, southern borders; Dichter says Hamas’s Sinwar remains a target

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with OC Central Command Yehuda Fox, at the scene of a terror attack in the Jordan Valley on April 7, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with OC Central Command Yehuda Fox, at the scene of a terror attack in the Jordan Valley on April 7, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant both promised Friday that terrorists behind a deadly shooting attack in the northern West Bank would be swiftly apprehended, amid criticism over the government’s ability to rein in terror.

The comments, delivered at the scene of the attack in the verdant Jordan Valley, were just as noteworthy for what wasn’t said as for what was: Appearing in public together, the two leaders sought to project a sense of steadfast unity despite openly clashing in recent weeks over the government’s judicial overhaul plans.

Late last month, Netanyahu announced he was firing Gallant from the post for calling to halt the legislative blitz, but never actually went through with the sacking. During the statement on Friday, the first in which the two appeared together since last month, Netanyahu referred to Gallant as the defense minister.

“It’s only a matter of time, but not a lot of time” until Israel catches the perpetrators of the attack, Netanyahu said in televised remarks.

He added that Israel’s enemies were “once again testing us,” referring to not only the terror attacks but also rocket barrages shot at Israel Thursday from Gaza and from Lebanon, seemingly in response to Israeli police actions on the Temple Mount during Ramadan. According to Israel, both volleys were shot by the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip and has a strong presence in Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon.

The uptick in violence came after several months of intense internal upheaval in Israel sparked by the government’s judicial overhaul push and other controversial moves by the hawkish coalition. Opposition to the government has sparked threats of mass insubordination among reserves troops, opened the rift between Netanyahu and Gallant, and raised questions about support for Israel among its traditional allies.

“For this challenge as well, we are standing united, unified, sure of our righteousness, and we will act together with total backing for our forces,” Netanyahu said.

Soldiers at the scene of a deadly terrorist shooting attack in the West Bank, near the settlement of Hamra, April 7, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

According to Channel 13 news, reserves fighter jet pilots called up to carry out strikes Thursday all showed up, despite airmen being among the most prominent groups to sign letters vowing to eschew service due to the overhaul legislation.

Despite signals that Israel was limiting its military response to put the round of fighting behind it, Netanyahu warned that Israeli reprisal strikes overnight targeting Hamas might not be the last word.

IAF jets seen on an airbase in Israel, April 7, 2023. (IDF Spokesperson’s Office)

Speaking after Netanyahu, Gallant said Israel was in the midst of battling a terror offensive and would find any wanted suspects.

“We will get to the terrorists, we’ll settle the score with them, and take them to the grave or to jail,” he said. “Whoever tries to turn our holiday into days of mourning will regret doing so.”

Hours after he spoke, a terrorist rammed a vehicle into pedestrians on a Tel Aviv sidewalk, killing an Italian tourist and injuring several other people. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Earlier Friday, the IDF announced that the suspect behind a shooting attack on troops in the West Bank Thursday night had been apprehended.

Army chief Herzi Halevi also warned that Israel’s enemies “should not draw false conclusions” about the IDF, in remarks provided by the military following a situational assessment at Northern Command headquarters.

“This is a complex period, the IDF is strong and will continue to use force as necessary, against any enemy and in any arena. I suggest to our enemies not draw false conclusions about us,” he said.

IDF chief Herzi Halevi and head of the Northern Command Ori Gordin hold an assessment in northern Israel, April 7, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

“Both during the holidays and during times of internal public debate, the IDF is prepared, ready and determined to provide security to the citizens of the State of Israel,” he added, referring to controversy over the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, who had been rumored as Gallant’s replacement, said Friday that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar remained a potential assassination target.

Speaking to Channel 12 news, Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, joined ministers further to the right who blamed the flare-up of Hezbollah being emboldened by a maritime gas extraction deal signed between Lebanon and Israel under the previous government.

He said security forces would need to concentrate on securing the Western Wall on Sunday, when tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers traditionally cram the Old City plaza for a priestly blessing ceremony. The prayer service will overlap with religious rites taking place in the Old City Sunday for Easter and Ramadan, potentially setting off renewed friction.

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