Bennett: Destruction of Tunnels Not Enough - Hamas Must Be Completely Defeated

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Economy Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Haaretz's Israel Conference on Peace, July 8, 2014. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett lashed out at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday over the latter's stated policy regarding the goals of the war in Gaza.

In a statement to the press, Bennett publicly countered Netanyahu's declarations of demolishing Hamas' terror tunnels as the primary goal of the operation – saying that it was the "defeat of Hamas" that Israel should consider as the ultimate target of the war.

Bennett nevertheless said that he did not support a full reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel must operate in order to "forcefully root out Hamas' faith in its ability to win."

"The tunnels are not the root of this problem," Bennett. "They are strategic avenues for destroying Hamas. What needs to be done? A target must be marked: the demilitarization of Gaza, as in Judea and Samaria [West Bank]. No missiles, no tunnels. The IDF must be given a clear task: Make that happen."

Bennet emphasized that the cabinet must instruct the IDF not relax or stop until this goal has been achieved – whether by force or by agreement. Israel need not answer positively to all requests for humanitarian cease-fires, he added. "Hit Hamas without mercy," Bennett said. "Day and night. On weekdays and holidays. Without respite and without rest. Until they are defeated."

The IDF is not far from defeating Hamas, Bennet said. The army must continue its operation and refuse every international request to ease its attacks in Gaza.

The goal regarding tunnels must be clearer, he added. The mission must be defined as the erasure of tunnels in Gaza, he declared; he proposed that Israel establish a security zone on the western side of the Gaza border in order to fully carry out its operation to destroy the tunnels.

"If it takes a month, we'll take it. If we need a year to work in the barrier space, we will ask for it and get it. If we need freedom for IDF operations in the Gaza Strip indefinitely, then we will ask for it and get it," he said. Not just to act to the best of our abilities but to destroy the threats of the tunnels."

Only a clear defeat of Hamas will prevent the next war, he said.

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