Defense Chief: Israel Must Deal Hamas a Blow – Even if It Means War in Gaza

Defense Minister Avidgor Lieberman said on Tuesday that Israel must decide if it is headed toward another war with Hamas in Gaza.

According to Lieberman, the security cabinet should order a military blow against the Islamist group "even at a price of moving to a wide-scale confrontation."

Israel does not intend to continue responding to violent incidents along the border as it has in the past, the defense minister declared. "My opinion is very clear. We must land a strong blow against Hamas. That’s the only way to lower the level of violence to zero or close to zero."

The security cabinet is expected to meet on Wednesday for a second time this week on the situation in Gaza.

In a visit to the Israeli army’s division near the Gaza border, Lieberman said the violence on the border last Friday led him to understand that the situation there has changed, and that Israel must change its approach toward the incidents along the border fence.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on a visit to the IDF’s Gaza Division, which serves near the Gaza Strip border, Oct. 16, 2018.Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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"Since we’ve allowed the United Nations to bring fuel [into Gaza], we have only gotten high-profile violence," he said. "We’ve reached a red line and now is the time to make decisions."

The problem in Gaza is not Hamas’ tactical activity, including the lauching of incendiary balloon and the burning of tires, but rather Hamas’ decision to push for an end to the siege of Gaza, the defense minister said. Both Israel and Egypt have limited the flow of people and goods in and out of the Hamas-controlled enclave.

"The Jewish people’s genetic defect is that we refuse to listen and make our own interpretation," he said. "We need to accept things as they are."

Israel has done everything that it could not to escalate the violence on the border, the defense minister said. "We have exhausted all of the options and all of the possibilities. Now is the time to make decisions."

Defense officials have expressed the belief that a wide-scale confrontation in Gaza is not necessary. One senior official said Monday that in light of the situation of the population of the enclave, it would be difficult for the Israeli army to conduct combat operations in the Strip without Israel coming in for international criticism. The army is taking the position that efforts should be made to avoid a military confrontation with Hamas until the end of next year, when work on Israeli infrastructure along the Gaza border designed to prevent Hamas from building attack tunnels under the Israeli border will be complete.

In speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Lieberman commented on an interview with an Italian daily that Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, gave at the beginning of the month in which he said Hamas was not interested in war. Lieberman said the remarks should not be taken seriously.

"It doesn’t matter what Arab leaders say in Hebrew or English," the defense minister said. "What’s important is what they say in Arabic."

Asked by Haaretz to comment on the disappearance of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Lieberman said Israel has many problems of its own. "Leave that to the international community."

The continuing violence from Gaza, which has included mass demonstrations along the border fence and more recently the use of incendiary kites and balloons to set fires on the Israeli side of the border, have been ongoing since March. About 200 Palestinians have been killed in the clashes.

On Monday alone, 24 Palestinians were wounded by live Israeli military fire in clashes near the Gaza border, the Gaza Health Ministry said. According to the Israel Defense Forces, 2,000 Palestinians demonstrated for several hours near the border in northern Gaza.

Earlier Monday, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said Israeli aircraft fired at a Hamas position in southern Gaza after two Palestinians placed an explosive charge near the border fence. There were no casualties in the incident. On Friday, seven Palestinians were reportedly killed by Israeli army fire as some 15,000 protesters demonstrated along the border.

In light of the continued violence, over the weekend Lieberman ordered a halt to deliveries of fuel and natural gas into the Strip despite opposition from senior defense officials to the step. The officials expressed the belief that a distinction should be made between fuel supplies sent in by Israel to avert a humanitarian crisis and other fuel that the Gulf state of Qatar is contributing. Israel delivers daily supplies of fuel and natural gas at levels that it says are the minimum required to prevent a collapse in Gaza.