The Israel Defense Forces believes that now is the time to reach an agreement with Hamas to improve life for Gazans and prevent further rounds of fighting, a senior officer in the IDF’s Southern Command said Thursday.
“In the past four years since Operation Protective Edge, this is the closest we’ve come to a war in Gaza. But the reason is the situation and the distress in Gaza rather than Hamas’ military ambitions. In this situation, there’s an opportunity for various agreements in Gaza,” the officer said.
“The [Israeli] political leadership has to decide with whom to make such arrangements, but in terms of Hamas’ situation in the Gaza Strip, now is definitely a good time to try to reach agreements that will enable [Gazans] to have a better life and bring a long period of quiet," he added.
“Four years after Operation Protective Edge, we have to make decisions about what’s happening now in Gaza. We can let the situation continue with rocket attacks and escalation. The IDF is willing to enter Gaza and even run it if necessary the day after the war. But we can also decide that this is a good time for an arrangement in Gaza, and there are a number of opportunities. Stability in Gaza is cracking.”
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Israel has a choice between a purely military approach to Gaza militancy that will lead to escalation, and a nonmilitary approach of improving life in the enclave by enhancing the quality of its water, sewage, food supply, factories and freedom of movement, the officer said.
“Hamas must stop building tunnels, stop the terror against us," he said. "They’re now willing to talk about everything in order to save themselves. Today the only solution is confrontation, and we may come to that.”
The IDF also rejects the criticism from hawkish politicians and commentators that its bombing of Gaza in reaction to Tuesday’s intense rocketing of border communities was weak and ineffective, and that by causing no casualties in Gaza the military had weakened its deterrence of Gaza militants, the officer added.
He said that from the start of Tuesday’s exchanges with Gaza militants, the IDF sought a return of calm as quickly as possible.
“Hamas is a threat, but the IDF has greater threats in the north,” he said. “Some people are calling it a 'round,' but on Tuesday it wasn’t even a minor round. We have to take it in the proper perspective. Hamas is in its worst position since its establishment. The purpose of all these events is to publicize the harsh situation in Gaza.”
The officer said that describing escalation as “deterrence” or a “victory” over Hamas is mistaken. “Anyone using these expressions in regard to Gaza is a demagogue who doesn’t understand the situation,” he said, adding that the IDF can target Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar if necessary, but the price is rocket fire.
“Had we adopted a different policy on that day of fighting we could easily have caused a serious deterioration in the situation. I’m not responsible for the newspaper headlines and what everyone says. We acted according to clear instructions of the political leadership, which were acceptable to the defense establishment, to end the incident as we did. The heads of Israel’s border communities sent the same message.”
The escalation on the border began on Tuesday after Islamic Jihad launched a massive rocket barrage into Israel. The onslaught came in response to the IDF’s killing of three Islamic Jihad members after an attempt to place an explosive device on the border fence. The number of militant squads trying to reach the fence and place explosives has increased since Hamas realized that the recent protests on the border would not change the situation in Gaza, the senior officer said.
The IDF said over 100 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel that day. Sirens were heard until nighttime even in cities beyond the border communities such as Netivot and Ofakim.