In the wake of the latest round of rocket attacks from Gaza, at least two top government ministers – Intelligence and Strategy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman – are calling on Israel to retake Gaza. In a stinging recrimination to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan, which included the forced expulsion of some 10,000 Israelis when their homes were demolished and the land they were build on handed over to the Palestinian Authority, Steinitz said in an interview with Channel 10 that Israeli control was the only way to restore peace and quiet in southern Israel.
“Sooner or later we will have to take control of Gaza, in order to get rid of the Hamas regime,” Steinitz said. “We do not need to reoccupy it permanently, but we do need to remove from Gaza the option of firing rockets on us. If and when the moment comes when we must retake Gaza – and that moment is coming soon – the operation will have to be a very quick one,” said Steinitz.
An operation like this is likely to be distasteful to Israelis, but there really is no choice, said Steinitz. “This really should have been done in 2012, in Operation Pillar of Defense, when they fired rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The IDF entered Gaza and managed to halt the firing of rockets for a time, but I was of the opinion that we should have continued.”
The model for Israel’s involvement in Gaza is the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, which the IDF undertook in response to the massive wave of suicide bombing attacks in Israeli cities by terrorists from Judea and Samaria in the Second Intifada.
“We retook areas like Jenin, Tulkarem, and Hevron temporarily, but we did not remain there,” he said. “We went in, got rid of the terrorists, and left. And now that area is more or less quiet. The only reason we were able to stop the suicide bombing attacks of the second intifada was that we went in and halted the terror, and this what we are going to have to do in Gaza,” he added.
Joining Steinitz’s call was Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. In a Facebook posting Thursday, Liberman expanded on comments he made Wednesday night, in which he said that Israel needed to retake Gaza.
“The Gaza disengagement was one of the most difficult chapters in Israeli history, causing an internal split and a major trauma to the 8,600 residents of Gush Katif who were thrown out of their homes. Some of them have still, until this day, succeeded in rising above the suffering they experienced,” he wrote.
Sharon and others who advocated the benefits of the disengagement said that there was no reason to worry; if Israel faced any trouble from Gaza, the IDF could walk right back in and take over again. But they were wrong, he said. “Since the intifada, Gaza has turned into a ‘kingdom of terror,’ with Hamas firing sophisticated missiles at Israel.” Operation Pillar of Defense brought just a small respite from the ongoing rocket attacks, and not the permanent quiet Israel and residents of the south need.
“We cannot allow the areas that Israel evacuated to be used for terror attacks on us,” said Liberman. “The only solution is a reversal of the process, a retaking of Gaza.”
On Sunday, March 23, however, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened Israel that it would pay dearly if it heeded the growing calls to retake Gaza, according to AFP.
“We tell the enemy and (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Liberman who is threatening to reoccupy Gaza that the time for your threats is over,” Haniyeh declared, at a rally in Gaza City. “Any aggression or crime or stupidity you commit will cost you a very high price.”
Hamas’s threats surface less than 24 hours after an IDF raid in Jenin – involving the Police’s SWAT team, the Border Police, and the ISA or Shin Bet – killed senior Hamas terrorist Hamza Abu Alheja, 20.
An Islamic Jihad terrorist and a rioter were also killed in the clashes, which erupted after Jenin residents rioted at IDF soldiers.
In response, a joint statement from Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad was released threatening revenge; hundreds of Israelis and journalists were sent “warnings” from Hamas through emails and text messages hours later.
“Ten years ago, Ismail Ahmed Yassin, our leader, was killed by three missiles as he left a mosque after morning prayers,” said an email message to hundreds of Israelis – including Arutz Sheva’s news team. “This is a reminder that we do not forget our Sheikh’s blood on your hands. We vow once again that we will take revenge, and cut off the heads of your commanders.”
“Missiles killed our Sheikh and now, our missiles will hit every place in the State of Israel,” it continues. “Know that the next war will see the end of your country.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that the raid was not only self-defense, but that it was a warning against terrorists who continue to threaten Israel’s security.
“Over the weekend, our forces struck at a terrorist who had organized attacks on Israelis and was also planning attacks on innocent civilians,” Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting.
“Our policy is to attack those who attack us and who are planning to attack us,” the Prime Minister’s Office quoted him as saying. “Both were applicable in this case.”
Tensions have stepped up between Israel and Hamas on several fronts over the past several weeks.
Earlier this month, Israel apprehended a weapons ship carrying missiles from Iran to Gaza, exposing the cargo for the world to see. Hamas retaliated with exceptional bravado, claiming the next war will see missiles rain down on the Golan Heights.
Last week, tensions heightened further when Islamic Jihad terrorists fired a barrage of over 60 rockets into Israel, in what they called “Operation Breaking the Silence.” The IDF retaliated by taking out known terror targets in Gaza, holding Islamic Jihad responsible for the rocket fire and Hamas responsible for allowing the rocket fire to continue on its territory.
The IDF also uncovered a crucial Hamas terror tunnel late Thursday, which experts say shows signs of being highly advanced and having recently been used. Hamas scoffed at the reports, calling them “false achievements.”\