'Looking long-term, there won't be a choice but to do it'

Smotrich, Strock say Israel will have ‘no choice’ but to eventually retake Gaza

In separate interviews, far-right ministers slam 2005 disengagement, stress option to reconquer territory not currently on table, but argue it will be in the long term

Israeli soldiers return from the Gaza Strip on August 05, 2014. (Dave Buimovitch/Flash90)
File: Israeli soldiers return from the Gaza Strip on August 05, 2014. (Dave Buimovitch/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Missions Minister Orit Strock of the far-right Religious Zionism party separately called Thursday for Israel’s eventual reconquering of the Gaza Strip as a solution to repeated clashes with Palestinian terror groups in the territory.

In an interview with Channel 14, Smotrich said Israel’s conflict with Gazan terrorists was a “chronic problem” and lamented that policymakers did not listen to warnings ahead of the 2005 disengagement that it would lead to projectiles being launched across the country.

“The time will probably come to return to Gaza, disassemble Hamas and demilitarize Gaza. This too will be carried out according to the broad interests and considerations of the State of Israel,” Smotrich said. “I believe the moment will come when there won’t be a choice but to reconquer Gaza.”

Smotrich stressed that the cabinet was not debating such a move: “At the moment it is not relevant. We are not discussing this now.”

The comments came on the third day of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, which saw the assassination of the head of PIJ’s rocket forces and his deputy, and heavy rocket fire from Gaza that caused the first Israeli fatality of the latest bout of fighting.

The escalation began after Israel eliminated three leaders of the terror group early Tuesday, in response to rocket barrages from the Strip last week. The terror group responded to the initial strikes in Gaza a day later by firing hundreds of projectiles at Israeli communities, causing some material damage across southern Israel.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (left) and National Missions Minister Orit Strock at a Religious Zionism faction meeting in the West Bank settlement of Givat Harel, February 14, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

In an interview with Kan news Thursday, Strock called Israel’s situation with Gaza “unfathomable,” and said it was a mistake that Israel withdrew from the enclave in 2005.

“Israel fled twice from Gaza — the first time during Oslo, the second in the disengagement. This can’t be an acceptable security situation in Gaza,” she said, referencing the 1994 agreement which provided the Palestinian Authority limited self-rule in the area.

Strock said she believed returning to Gaza would be costly, but added Israel may have “no choice” in the future. However, she emphasized a broad consensus was needed among the population before such a move was made.

“We saw there was a very broad understanding, we voted with a very large majority to cancel the withdrawal of northern Samaria. On that, there was a broad national consensus. On Gaza, I don’t think we are there yet,” Strock said, referencing the Knesset’s rollback in March of legislation that ordered the evacuation of four northern West Bank settlements concurrent with Israel’s pullout from Gaza.

“Looking long-term, there won’t be a choice but to do it,” she added.

In 2005, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon masterminded the unilateral evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza and handed the area over to Palestinian rule, ending 38 years of Israeli military control of the territory. The Hamas terror group has ruled Gaza since 2007, when it ousted the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup.

The Iron Dome missile defense system fires interceptors at rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, May 11, 2023. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Since then, Israel has fought several wars with Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorists — such as the ongoing Operation Shield and Arrow —  in a bid to stop the tens of thousands of rockets that have been fired at Israel. Israeli incursions into Gaza have faced bitter resistance and more than 80 IDF soldiers have been killed.

Hamas also holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014, alongside two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip.

In the latest round, one Israeli has been killed, several have been wounded and over 40 people in Israel have sought treatment for wounds suffered as they tried to reach shelter, or because of acute anxiety from nearby impacts.

At least 30 people in Gaza have been killed in the offensive, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, and at least 93 more injured. The figure includes both terrorists targeted by Israel and civilians, as well as civilians believed killed by Islamic Jihad rocket misfires, according to Israeli officials.

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