Following the discovery of a cross-border attack tunnel extending from the Gaza Strip into Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Israel will not tolerate any attempts by Hamas to challenge Israel.
"We do not seek confrontation, but if Hamas tries to challenge Israel and disrupt the lives of the residents of the Gaza border communities, it will be struck a very harsh blow. We will not tolerate such attempts," he said.
"We have no illusions as to Hamas' intentions. Even before Operation Protective Edge, during it and of course following it, we have been devoting major efforts – technological, intelligence and operational – to reveal tunnels from the Gaza Strip.
"Over the years we have discovered many tunnels, and we continue to concentrate great efforts to do so. Israel's top forces are involved in the mostly clandestine mission to reveal tunnels, including the IDF, the Shin Bet and the military industries," he said.
"We are not fooling ourselves that Hamas will draw conclusions, cease its work and make itself available to help improve the quality of life in the Gaza Strip for the benefit of the people there. That's why we will continue the various effors to uncover tunnels," Ya'alon said.
Meanwhile, politicians from both the coalition and the opposition blasted government policy regarding Hamas.
Habayit Hayehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett implicitly criticized Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the unearthing of the tunnel.
"What we feared has arrived," Bennett said. "In the two years since Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has not been deterred from growing stronger again, as we have persistently warned. Hamas has declared a national project to re-dig the terror tunnels that extend deep into Israeli territory. This is a national goal of the highest order for it, and it's time that we face it."
"Hamas' goal is to surprise us with a multi-event attack that includes infiltration, killing and kidnapping, a kind of a terrorist 'Yom Kippur,'" he said, referring to the outbreak of the 1973 war. "It is Israel's duty to provide security to the citizens in the south and prevent this at any cost, and not rely on a seemingly deterred Hamas."
"We will protect the residents of the Gaza border communities. Digging into our territory also constitutes a violation of sovereignty that justifies any necessary action," Bennett said.
Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog lambasted the government's conduct toward Hamas.
"In the past there were governments in Israel whose heads kept quiet and the enemy was hit. In recent years there are governments in Israel that only talk and the enemy is the one doing the hitting," he tweeted.
"After Protective Edge the chatterboxes promised us that there'll be deterrence and quiet for many years, but it turns out that Haniyeh isn’t scared of Bennett and Mohammed Deif disregards Netanyahu," he said, referring to Hamas leaders.
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman also responded to the discovery. "The tunnel that was revealed constitutes a severe blow to Israeli sovereignty and is further proof that the containment policy led by Netanyahu and Ya'alon enables Hamas to continue to build up and to operate in the field, endangering the lives of the south's residents and the security of the State of Israel.
"This probably isn’t the only tunnel that has crossed the border with Israel. If policy doesn’t change, Hamas will continue to dig, rearm, grow stronger and undermine the foundations of Israeli security," he said.
In a joint statement, the heads of the local councils in the Gaza vicinity called for the speedy completion of "an obstacle" along the border that would thwart the digging of tunnels.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit said in a statement that the tunnel was destroyed in a controlled manner and that the military is "broadly" securing the Israeli towns in the vicinity of the Gaza border.
"Hamas is preparing for war, but is aware of the heavy price," Southern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir said. "Our forces make broad and continuous efforts to locate additional tunnels, if they exist."
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