Senior Israeli Minister Says Israel May Have to Go to War in Gaza After Tense Weekend

Yuval Steinitz says Israel might be forced to set out on a ground operation, which will 'come at a price' ■ Hamas leader says no talks are held with Jerusalem because of Israeli political deadlock

Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel as seen from the city of Ashkelon, November 1, 2019.
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Israeli Energy Minister and security cabinet member Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday that in light of the uptick in tensions between Israel and Hamas along the border with the Gaza Strip, he believes that Israel will have to set out on a military campaign in the coastal enclave.

"We hoped to reach an agreement before a large military operation, and as it seems right now, we may have to set out on a big army operation and only then reach an agreement," Steinitz said in an interview with Army Radio. 

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"If there is no choice and we want to destroy the Hamas regime, it will have to be a ground operation, and this comes at a price," he added.

Steinitz's comments come after a tense weekend during which 10 rockets were launched at Israel from the Strip on Friday evening. The Israeli military said that the Iron Dome missile defense system had intercepted eight of the rockets. 

In retaliation, the Israeli army struck a wide range of Hamas targets throughout the Strip. Gaza's Health Ministry reported one dead in the strikes, and identified him as the 27-year-old Ahmad Muhammad al-Shakhri. According to Gaza's Health Ministry, he died of his wounds after being critically injured in an Israeli strike west of Khan Yunis. Two others were wounded in the strike, and transferred to Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis, the ministry said. 

While no casualties were caused in Israel by the rockets, one woman was lightly injured from rocket shrapnel as she ran for shelter in the southern city of Sderot. A house in the city was also hit by shrapnel. 

No negotiations with Hamas

Meanwhile, Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said Sunday that were no negotiations between Hamas and Israel regarding a prisoner swap deal to retrieve Israel's war prisoners. Sinwar blamed the lack of such talks on Israel's political deadlock.

"There are no negotiations between us and Israel. They don't have a functional government to discuss major issues like the Iranian threat. They cannot take decisive and crucial decisions at this point and we are ready to face the enemy," he said.

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, center, chant slogans as he surrounded by protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, April 20, 2018.
Khalil Hamra / AP

The security cabinet convened Sunday for a meeting that lasted several hours. This was the cabinet's third meeting in a week, which is very unusual for a transitional government. During the period before the second election in September and immediately following it, the cabinet rarely met.

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Rafi Peretz, who is also a cabinet member, said at a government meeting today that as a Gaza-border resident, he, too, "experienced on Saturday the rocket alerts and the firebombs, and again we couldn't sit down for a Saturday dinner. This can't go on. The heads of Hamas will be made to pay a price for this." 

His faction member Bezalel Smotrich also spoke at the government meeting, saying that "I can tell the people of Israel decisively that we are handling this campaign in a very calculated and responsible manner. We are looking at everything that is happening in all the arenas and trying to balance the tensions. It's easy to speak harshly, it's easy to say 'let's go out on an attack.' It's important to understand that the space we are operating in is very complicated, and we need to act responsibly." 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed the flare-up in the south, taking to Twitter to write: "Hamas is bearing the responsibility for any attack emanating from the Gaza Strip. I don't intend to detail our plans here. We will continue to operate in all the arenas for the safety of the State of Israel, in overt and covert measures – through the sea, in the air and on the ground." 

Although Israel has attributed rocket fire from Gaza over the past few months to Islamic Jihad, the Israeli military holds Hamas, as the ruling power in the Strip, responsible for all attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.

The decisions on moves in Gaza are linked to what’s happening on the Iranian front. There have been a few warnings about possible plans for Iranian attacks, either from Syria and Iraq or from Yemen and the Red Sea region, against Israeli targets. Israel is particularly concerned about efforts to undermine free sea passage to and from Eilat.