Netanyahu: Gaza Op Was Great Military, Political Achievement

Prime minister says war opened up 'new horizons' and that Israel would be happy to see President Abbas' forces enter the Gaza Strip.

Michal Fattal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference on Wednesday night that Israel had secured a "great military and political" achievement in the Gaza war and that Hamas had been dealt a "heavy blow."

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chief of Staff Benny Gantz also addressed the press conference.

Responding to a journalist's question, the prime minister said: "We would be happy to see Abu-Mazen's [Abbas'] forces enter the Gaza Strip." The Palestinian president, he said "has to decide which side he is on. We hope he will continue to support a peace deal with Israel."

Netanyahu stressed that Hamas did not achieve even one of the conditions it initially set for a cease-fire and had suffered a significant political setback.

"From the start, we set a clear goal and that was to inflict serious damage on Hamas and the other terrorist groups and by doing so to bring extended quiet to all Israel's citizens," the premier said.

Itemizing the damage suffered by the militant groups in Gaza, Netanyahu said that some 1,000 militants had been killed, including several very senior commanders, and thousands of rockets had been destroyed, as well as rocket launchers, rocket-making facilities, ammunition stores and command and control centers.

On the diplomatic front, the prime minister said that Hamas had been isolated internationally, while Israel had "received international legitimization from the global community."

In addition, he said, Israel had managed to persuade the international community that Hamas, al-Qaeda, ISIS and other Islamic groups "are members of the same family." It had also managed to instill the understanding that "the long-term goal is the disarmament of Hamas in the Gaza Strip."

Pre-empting possible criticism that Israel had not gone deeper into Gaza, the premier said that IDF ground troops had been withdrawn following the destruction of Hamas' offensive tunnel capability "in order to save lives and prevent Hamas from killing or abducting soldiers."

Netanyahu stressed that Israel's achievements in the war, along with what he said was "regional change among the moderate elements" in the Middle East had "created a new diplomatic horizon for Israel."

There were new diplomatic possibilities for Israel, he said, and "we will definitely attempt to advance those possibilities in a responsible and measured way, as we have done until now."

It was too early to say whether Israel would achieve its goal of a long period of quiet, Netanyahu said, but the "blows that Hamas has suffered and our ability to prevent their resurgence in the future increase the chances of achieving that goal."

Speaking after Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon praised the resilience of the communities living near the Gaza border, saying he had witnessed "bravery, commitment and a sense of leadership."

"Hamas and the other terrorist organizations were dealt a heavy blow in recent days," Ya'alon said. "Over 1,000 terrorists were killed, including members of the military wing. We struck and destroyed armaments, including terror tunnels that had been dug for years. We sent them back years."

When the dust clears over the Gaza Strip, Ya'alon said, Hamas will face difficult questions following "the heavy and unprecedented blow brought on by Israel and the fact that they achieved nothing."

Ya'alon added: "Don't be fooled by the arrogant words of Hamas leaders as they emerge from bunkers in hospitals and schools, surrounded by women and children as human shields. They know they sustained a heavy blow and were forced into the cease-fire. They also know that if they dare challenge us again the blow will be harsher."

Both Netanyahu and Ya'alon referred to the criticism that had been leveled at them by cabinet ministers:

"I run the country and lead it with my colleagues responsibly and taking into account global considerations," Netanyahu said. "We don't deal with populism and Facebook, we deal with ensuring the security of the state of Israel."

Ya'alon added: "Even when we were attacked from inside during the war we bit our lip and navigated according to a compass, not according to whichever way the wind was blowing." 

In response to a question why he hadn't involved the cabinet ministers in the decision to accept the cease-fire proposal, Netanyahu replied that "the cabinet decided to support the Egyptian initiative, which called for ceasing fire without condition or limitation.

"Afterwards, the cabinet took a decision authorizing myseld and the defense minister to accept a cease-fire. I said that in the event that there is an accommodation with Hamas – something that may well not happen – we will bring it to the cabinet. But we had full agreement to decide on a cease-fire. I thought it was the right thing to do, in a situation in which Hamas had dropped all its demands and was saying, 'I don't want anything.'"

Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned against making deals with Hamas.

"As long as Hamas rules in Gaza, it will be impossible to guarantee security to Israeli citizens and impossible to reach a diplomatic agreement," he wrote on his Facebook page. "Hamas is not a partner for any arrangement, be it diplomatic or security-related. It's impossible and forbidden to rely on worthless murderers."

Lieberman wrote that for these reasons he opposes the cease-fire under which Hamas will be able to strengthen and wage another fight against Israel at its own convenience.

"As long as Hamas isn't defeated, the rocket and tunnel threats remain," he wrote. "We must stand firm that Hamas make no political gains through this cease-fire."