Hamas still retains about 20 percent of the rockets and mortars it had before this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday.
- Gaza vs. Israel: The Never-ending Rematch
- Will Gaza Be the Global Jihadists' Next 'Ground Zero'?
- Precise Missiles, Cyber-attacks, Mass Border Invasions: Israel's Next War
Prior to Operation Protective Edge, Ya’alon said, Hamas had about 10,000 rockets and mortars. After thousands of these were either fired at Israel during the 50-day war or destroyed in Israeli attacks on Gaza, Hamas is left with about 2,000 rockets mortars, he said.
Speaking at a conference hosted by Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Ya’alon acknowledged that the ground operation launched to destroy Hamas’ cross-border tunnels “took longer than we expected.”
He also claimed that of the over 2,100 Palestinians killed during the war, “most, to the best of our understanding, were terrorists. But they hide the slain terrorists.” By contrast, the United Nations found that 69 percent of the Gazans killed were civilians.
About 7,000 houses in Gaza were completely destroyed during the operation, Ya’alon continued, adding that this will also serve as a deterrent to Hezbollah in Lebanon. “When they look at what happened in the Gaza Strip as a result of provoking us, this isn’t 70 buildings in Dahiyeh,” he said, referring to the damage suffered by that Beirut neighborhood during the Second Lebanon War of 2006. “It’s 7,000 houses destroyed.”
“I understand the longing for a victory like that of the Six-Day War, but I keep reminding people: That glorious military victory didn’t bring quiet, except for during a very limited time period,” he continued. “The question of Operation Protective Edge’s achievements will be judged by the test of time. We’ll also have to see how we prevent Hamas and other organizations from rearming – the potential for doing so exists. I hope the future will prove that this operation achieved a long period of quiet and deterrence not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the entire region.”
Commenting on the fact that the fighting lasted for 50 days, Ya’alon said this was mainly because Israel insisted that Hamas accept the Egyptian cease-fire proposal – which it ultimately did – and would not agree to alternative proposals that Hamas preferred. A schism in the Hamas leadership also contributed to prolonging the war, he added, saying that Khaled Meshal, the Qatar-based head of Hamas’ political bureau, “brought about a significant delay in the cease-fire.”
Ya’alon also discussed the sequence of events on July 17, when Israel initially agreed to a proposed cease-fire, but then, after Hamas carried out a cross-border attack near Kibbutz Sufa via one of its tunnels, decided to respond by launching a ground operation in Gaza.
“We assumed the [Hamas] response to the Egyptian proposal would be negative, and therefore we prepared for a ground operation,” he said. “We weren’t afraid of launching ground maneuvers. We took action when there was no choice, because of the tunnel network.”