Israeli Defense Minister Doesn't Rule Out Occupying Gaza Strip in Next Conflict

'If a quarter of the Strip is needed, then we occupy a quarter of the Strip. If more, then more,' Lieberman says.

FILE PHOTO: An Israeli army tank returns from an attack on a Hamas position in the Gaza Strip, January 15, 2017.
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli army tank returns from an attack on a Hamas position in the Gaza Strip, January 15, 2017. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman took a hard-line stance Tuesday at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), saying that the Israeli military is preparing to employ its "full strength" in future conflicts in either Gaza or Lebanon.

"It doesn't matter where the next conflict breaks out, it has to be at full strength," Lieberman told the audience. "You recruit the entire army, the entire reserves; you go full strength until the end, until the other side yells 'gevalt' and raises a white flag. We don't stop in the middle."

"If a quarter of the Strip is needed, then we occupy a quarter of the Strip. If more, then more," he said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at Knesset. December 2016.
Photo: Emil Salman

Lieberman was known for making statements of a similar tone before being named defense minister. In one particularly infamous comment, Lieberman told Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that if named defense minister, he would issue a 48-hour warning to return the bodies of Israel soldiers being held in Gaza before assassinating him.

Since taking up the post, however, Lieberman's tone has been more reserved, until the conference on Tuesday.

The defense minister also had harsh words for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling his an "illegitimate leader." He backed up his statement by pointing out that Palestinian elections were meant to take place a decade ago, and that Abbas' continued presidency has corroded his support among Palestinians.

"Israel cannot offer Abu Mazen any more than he was offered in Annapolis," Lieberman said, referring to Abbas. "We offered all; he gave nothing. He has no capacity to do so. He is an illegitimate leader who is unable to lead or persuade. According to polls, more than 60 percent of the Palestinians do not back Abu Mazen as their leader. There is no Palestinian Authority. There is Hamas in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank."

Lieberman also spoke of international involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declaring that "I suggest, first of all, to the Europeans, the Americans and the Russians, not to touch the Israeli-Palestinians conflict." He added, "Whoever wants to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should first of all forget about the over-involvement of world powers, especially that of Europe, it's mostly disruptive."

Speaking of Tuesday's decision to approve the planning and construction of 2,500 housing units in the West Bank, the defense minister said that "there's nothing new about it. We've always built, including during the Obama administration."

He also refused to offer his advice to newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that "It's not right to give advice to the Americans. Let's not exaggerate. We're a small country and that's a world power."