Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman says Israel should seriously consider reoccupying the Gaza Strip to “conduct a thorough cleaning” after the ceasefire was broken with rocket-fire and retaliatory airstrikes, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
“Hamas has no intention of reconciling with a Jewish presence in Israel, so we need to return to the Gaza Strip and conduct a thorough cleaning,” said the chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party.
He said that if Israel did not respond now, then in two years’ time militants would possess aircraft and hundreds of missiles that could reach Tel Aviv and even the northern city of Netanya.
He added: “I am not sure that we want to live in this reality [of rocket attacks] and in the long-term there will be choice [but to take action].”
Lieberman’s incendiary comments came in response to six rockets fired into southern Israel on Sunday night, shaking a six-month cease-fire between Israel and Hamas which concluded last November’s conflict.
The Iron Dome anti-missile defence system intercepted two rockets headed for the coastal city of Ashkelon. No-one was hurt in the attacks, which set off an armed confrontation within Gaza, when Hamas policemen came to arrest the Islamic Jihad militants responsible for firing the rockets.
IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said that the Syrian-based militant group Islamic Jihad was responsible, however Lt. Col. Peter Lerner reiterated that “Hamas is accountable for all acts of terrorism deriving from the Gaza Strip”.
The Israeli air force responded on Monday with airstrikes targeting launch pads and arms depots. At the same time, the IDF were quick to play down Lieberman’s comments.
“Conquering Gaza is not on the agenda now,” said Mordechai. “The implications of such a move are much greater than just military. There are vast diplomatic, international, and financial implications,” he said.
Opposition politicians also rounded on the comments. Zahava Gal-On of Meretz said that Lieberman – who is Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman – was “engaging in war-mongering and behaving in his typical politically irresponsible manner.” She added “Netanyahu should calm the winds of war in his own coalition.”
In recent weeks, Hamas has clashed with militant groups in the northern Gaza Strip in an attempt to preserve a cease-fire with Israel. Defence officials say the rockets are designed to undermine Hamas’ efforts to enforce a cease-fire and maintain quiet.
An Islamic Jihad militant, named as Raed Jundiyeh, was killed when Hamas police came to arrest members of the group responsible for the rockets.