Lieberman: Israel Must Defeat Hamas, Even if It Means Escalation

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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, right, with his Italian counterpart, Federica Mogherini, on July 15, 2014, at an Ashdod site hit by a rocket.Credit: Reuters

Israel must defeat Hamas even at the price of a further escalation of the conflict with Gaza, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday, adding that no peace deal is possible until Hamas is vanquished.

Speaking to local politicians in the south, Lieberman said Operation Protective Edge must not be halted until Hamas returns the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza. He threatened that Israel would assassinate top Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif if Hamas did not return the bodies.

The Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman appeared to be referring to Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, one of seven soldiers killed by an anti-tank missile that hit their armored personnel vehicle last month, and 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was initially thought to have been captured by Hamas.

"The State of Israel must not end this operation without the soldiers' bodies returning to Israel. If the terrorists on the other side can't accept this, don't understand this, they must understand that in return they will get the bodies of Mohammed Deif, [Ismail] Haniyeh and the entire Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip," Lieberman told heads of local politicians in Bat Hadar, near Ashkelon. "It cannot be a question in the least. My [Yisrael Beiteinu] colleagues and I will not accept any agreement, any plan, without the bodies of soldiers being returned to Israel."

No peace deal is possible until Hamas is vanquished, said Lieberman.

"Without getting rid of Hamas, we won't be able to move on to any satisfactory agreement – not in terms of security or diplomacy," he said. "It cannot be that the State of Israel is unable to defeat 26,000 terrorists who are sitting here near us and simply threatening every other day and violating the quiet."

Lieberman said Israel had to defeat Hamas to "prevent the next operation," adding: "The time has come to say 'Enough.'"

"The State of Israel cannot allow itself [to engage in] a war of attrition, and that's why we have to get to the point of defeat, even at the price of escalation," he said. "If the current cease-fire is on its way to collapsing, there's no need to threaten a harsh response. No harsh response – defeat. Taking the initiative into our hands, even at the price of a significant escalation. Finishing it off in the shortest possible time."

The UN Human Rights Council's commission of inquiry into the Israel-Gaza fighting is a "symphony of hypocrisy," since those who are accusing Israel of violating human rights are "countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Algeria," Lieberman said. He said Israel should not cooperate with the commission by legitimizing "destroyers of Israel."

The foreign minister also singled out the commission's chairman: William Schabas, a Canadian expert on international law and genocide who is known to be highly critical of Israel and harshly attacked the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. "This man must not set foot in the State of Israel," Lieberman said.

What the world thinks is less important than how to reach extended quiet in the country, said another member of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

"The thing I am looking at is the residents, and the desire to get a period of quiet as long as possible," Aharonovitch said. "What the world says is important, but what's more important to me is the residents and the way we reach an end to the conflict or extended quiet."

Tamir Idan, who heads the Sdot Negev regional council, said residents of the south are starting to weaken.

"Through this entire war – not an operation, it's a war – we were always asked what's going on with the residents, with [their] strength and steadfastness," said Idan. "The thing that astounded me in this war was the strength of the resident, but this strength is beginning to crack and to break."

"I have a 2-year-old son who hears a siren and shouts 'boom,'" said Idan. "Is this a normal way of life? We want quiet, we want to live like human beings. The residents are strong, as long as there is action whose end can be foreseen – another month, another two months, another year."

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