Netanyahu Defends 2014 Gaza War: Israel Did Everything to Try to Avoid Conflict

Argument breaks out between lawmakers after bereaved families interrupt special live session on Gaza war with Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and MK Karin Elharrar (C) at a special hearing into findings of watchdog report into 2014 Gaza war
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and MK Karin Elharrar (C) at a special hearing into findings of watchdog report into 2014 Gaza war Lior Mizrahi

Israel did everything it could to try to avoid the 2014 summer campaign in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a special committee of lawmakers on Wednesday, speaking on live camera. However, said the prime minister, from the moment three Israeli teenagers were abducted, a slippery slope was created and the descent into conflict could not be avoided, "though we tried."

Israel is still trying to persuade the Palestinians to return the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, Netanyahu stated. He also called the notion of trying to reach a political agreement with Hamas "insane."

The hearing before the special committee was dedicated to the results of the watchdog's damning report on the war. But the session deteriorated as bereaved parents heckled the politicians, and lawmakers from Netanyahu's Likud party began a shouting match with members of the opposition.

The chairwoman of the committee, MK Karin Elharrar, from the centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, reiterated the key findings of the state comptroller's report into Operation Protective Edge for the committee.

Among them was the conclusion that Israel's cabinet failed to lay out strategic goals for the campaign, hindering the army's ability to prepare.

"The result is that the soldiers saw the 'terror tunnels' for the first time only in the battlefield," Elharrar said.

"We didn't want war in the south," Netanyahu answered her. "We tried to avoid war all along. We are facing a very hard, vicious enemy. The problem of how to avoid escalation is not trivial. These people always create a situation of instability, which escalated significantly after the kidnap-murder of the three teens."

Tunnel wars

The premier also said that after the kidnapping, "we came to destroy Hamas' infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, which created more instability with Gaza." Meanwhile, Hamas was busy planning, he said.

Netanyahu said he knows what pain is and wanted to avoid war, but noted that now southern Israel has been experiencing its most peaceful period since the Six Day War: Hamas has been deterred, he said.

Later in his address, Netanyahu said that while acting intensively to improve Israel's capacity to attack Gaza, "we are handling even more challenging threats on other fronts. Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, terror in Judea and Samaria."

Hamas' goals in the conflict included improving its international standing, ending the blockade on Gaza, and gaining a seaport and airport – none of  which it achieved, Netanyahu said.

Israel on the other hand managed to destroy around 30 of the so-called "terror tunnels," which are used by Hamas to smuggle people and arms between Gaza and Israel. Though 11 soldiers died, Israel managed to foil Hamas' attempt to infiltrate Israel through multiple tunnels simultaneously, Netanyahu said and stressed that no civilians were killed because of the tunnels.

Diplomatic alternatives

Israeli Arab lawmaker Jamal Zahalka cut into Netanyahu and asked him if Israel had diplomatic alternatives to the war, at which point the bereaved parents lashed out at him, saying he had no right to be at the hearing.

Zahalka, an MK from the Joint List, responded saying "I'm against war, I don't want there to be any bereaved parents."

Regarding political alternatives, Netanyahu said, "There are situations in which there is no way to reach a diplomatic agreements. Like, Syria and ISIS. ISIS' ambitions collide with the agreements one might want to reach with them. You can do one of two things: either reach some type of containment, or fight.

"As far I'm concerned, the option of reaching a political agreement with Hamas is insane. There can be no political possibilities with Hamas as long as it is dedicated to our destruction," the premier said.

He added that the option of a demilitarized state isn't one, because Hamas refuses to stop arming itself.

Asked about the option of reoccupying Gaza, Netanyahu said that the problem isn't just one of "our soldiers and their civilians" but who would manage Gaza afterwards, a dilemma that remains unresolved. Mosul has exactly the same problem, he said: Arab society in the region has yet to stabilize and there's nobody to take the city and run it. "In Gaza, nobody wants to take it. There (in Mosul), nobody wants to give it," he said.

Regarding the conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, he said that Israel should stay out of it. "We defend our borders but insofar as possible, do not take part," he said. "We provide humanitarian help. I don't have pretensions of resolving all the region's problems."

Yossi Beinhorn, who actually wrote the report, said that a better decision-making process might have obviated the war altogether. From its formation and for over a year, the cabinet held no discussion on strategy for Gaza, and when it finally addressed the subject, no alternatives were discussed, only military action.

In the report, published about two months ago, Shapira wrote that during the year preceding the war, neither Netanyahu not his defense minister at the time, Moshe Yaalon, nor  the cabinet looked into the possibility of political moves with Gaza in the hope of halting the escalation. Yaalon himself stated, two days after the war began, that it could have been avoided if Israel had given solutions to the distress in Gaza.