Israel has not taken the eventual reconquest of the Gaza Strip off the table despite its current strategic focus on “forceful deterrence,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a gathering of diplomats on Wednesday afternoon.
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Addressing over 70 foreign representatives – including those of the United States, European Union, Russian Federation and China – at army headquarters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that the goal of current Israeli efforts is to “degrade” Hamas’ capabilities and will.
In order to maximize the quiet Israel gained after 2014's Operation Protective Edge, Netanyahu said, in engaging with the foe, "You can either conquer them – and that's always an open possibility – or you can deter them." He added, "We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we're not ruling out anything. We hope we can restore quiet. We hope we can restore it quickly.”
In August 2005, Israel began to withdraw the Israel Defense Forces and the 8,000 civilian inhabitants of settlements from the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Disengagement, as it became known, also included the evacuation of four settlements in the West Bank. It ended Israel’s occupation of the Strip since it conquered the land, which had been occupied by Egypt since 1948, during the Six-Day War in 1967.
The prime minister blamed Hamas for the latest escalation, declaring that it was possible to see “the origins of this particular outbreak in the cancellation of the Palestinian elections.”
The militant group had been “sure that it would gain considerable power” in Palestinian elections and that when the vote was cancelled, it sought “to incite violence in order to further [its] political goals,” he claimed, asserting that his administration had done “everything in our power to deescalate the potential conflict around Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”
This included cancelling the annual Jerusalem Day flag march in the Old City, banning Jews from the Temple Mount and asking the High Court to postpone a hearing on an eviction of Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah, he said, calling the moves “unprecedented.”
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Blaming Hamas for both Palestinian and Israeli civilian casualties, Netanyahu accused the group of both targeting civilians as well as using them as human shields and stated that nearly a quarter of the almost 4,000 rockets fired at Israel had fallen short and impacted in the Gaza Strip.
“Because Hamas is embedded deeply in civilian areas, because it uses civilian human shields, democracies have a choice,” he said, calling on the international community to support Israel.
“They can say there is nothing we can do, we will absorb attacks against our cities, we could do that, or we could level the [enemy’s] cities. In World War II, when western cities, specifically London and some British cities, were targeted this way by thousands of rockets, the response was to level cities.”
But while Netanyahu said he admired Winston Churchill, “this is not our response,” he said, adding that he finds criticism of collateral damage caused by Israeli “surgical” operations to be “absurd.”
“It gives succor, it gives support, it gives encouragement to the terrorists and that is something that is bad for each one of us,” he said of condemnations of Israeli operations.
“I’m not shy about saying it openly, I think you should support Israel strongly because this is not merely a question of Israel's security, it's a question of our common security and our common interests in the Middle East.”