Likud ministers have been competing since Sunday morning over who will threaten Hamas with harsher words, but it does not seem as though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is jumping at the chance to launch an operation in Gaza. A source in the Prime Minister's Office said Sunday in a press briefing that Netanyahu is conducting hasbara - efforts to explain and justify Israel's policies to the rest of the world – in order to "prepare international public opinion for an Israeli operation in Gaza."
Netanyahu has been sustaining harsh public criticism due to the continued rocket fire into southern Israel, but he understands that Israel does not have international legitimacy to launch an operation in Gaza at the moment. The stalled peace talks, the international criticism of settlement construction, the tension in Israel-Egypt ties, and the situation on the Syria border put Israel in a sensitive situation, and any operation in Gaza could bring about dangerous diplomatic consequences.
Likud ministers, who were trying to present an intransigent front ahead of the primaries, harshly threatened Hamas. Ministers Moshe Ya'alon, Yisrael Katz, Yuli Edelstein and others called to renew targeted assassinations on Hamas leaders.
At the cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said: "The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit with arms crossed when faced by attempts to hurt us," Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, after more than 40 rockets struck Israel over the course of Sunday morning. "We are prepared to intensify our response."
However, a press briefing organized by the PMO on Sunday evening gave the impression that these threats are more of a spin than genuine intentions.
A source in the PMO said during a committee meeting with reporters that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and conferred with heads of the security establishment on the situation along the borders with both Gaza and Syria. The source noted that in the next day, the prime minister will be primarily busy speaking to the press and conducting government hasbara.
Netanyahu is expected to hold a briefing Monday with foreign diplomats stationed in Israel on the situations in both Gaza and Syria.
"The prime minister is interested in preparing international public opinion for an Israeli military operation in Gaza," the PMO source said.
It appears that despite the big statements and threats, Netanyahu is interested in taking advantage of the situation in Gaza to provoke Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of his plan to apply for observer status at the UN at the end of the month - this, despite the fact that the sovereign power in Gaza is Hamas. "Abu Mazen claims he is the sole representative of the Palestinian people, but is not assuming responsibility for the fire from Gaza," the PMO said Sunday evening.
Netanyahu discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who earlier Sunday released a message condemning Abbas for the situation in Gaza.
"Abbas' failure to denounce or relate to the rocket fire into southern Israel in recent days once again raises the question of whom Abbas represents, what is his responsibility for what is done in this area and what value will an agreement with him actually have," Lieberman said.