Benny Gantz, leader of the Kahol Lavan party, vowed on Tuesday that if he becomes prime minister he would move to "pound Gaza," send ground troops into the enclave, and kill Hamas' leadership in the event of another round of fighting.
Gantz's comments, made as he visited the Gaza border area with other top members of his party some six weeks before Israelis head to the polls, marked a more hawkish line than that taken by his party during the last election campaign. Sources in the party confirmed that it has decided to sharpen its rhetoric regarding defense in an effort to attract right-wing voters and increase the size of the center-left bloc.
Sources confirmed that the party has decided to sharpen its rhetoric regarding defense in an effort to attract right-wing voters and increase the size of the center-left bloc.
"We do not intend to let deterrence continue to be eroded; we do not intend to allow this model of another round and another round and another [incendiary] kite and another missiles and another thing to continue," Gantz said during a visit to the Gaza border along with other top members of his party ."The next time something happens here, we will make sure that it's the final round." As prime minister, Gantz said, another round of fighting would not end with just an agreement, but with an attempt to fully defeat Hamas militarily. Gantz further said that if another conflict erupts while he is prime minister, the military would move to kill all of Hamas' leadership.
The former military chief of staff also said that unless Hamas agrees to "total quiet" and returns the civilians and the remains of soldiers that it holds in Gaza, Israel would have no choice but to embark on a major military campaign. "To the heads of Hamas, I recommend being totally quiet – not a balloon, not a rocket, not a kite. None, nada, nothing."
Yair Lapid, the other leader of Kahol Lavan, added, "Hamas must know that next time they shoot missiles at Israeli citizens, their leaders, under our watch, would not receive suitcases full of dollars – they'll receive a guided missile in their homes."
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The party debated over whether to wait for defense-related developments in Gaza before making these statements, but ultimately decided to hold the visit to the border on Tuesday. It is expected to soon release a video with similar messages in the hopes of reaching "soft right" voters.
While the visit was planned in advance, the presence of the four people at the top of its slate – Gantz, Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon, and Gabi Ashkenazi – gave the party an opportunity to try and dispel claims that there is tension between them. On Monday, Gantz and Ya'alon criticized a video released by Lapid that portrayed the leaders of ultra-Orthodox parties as extorting huge amounts of funding in return for supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
A senior member of Kahol Lavan said Lapid was deepening the rift with ultra-Orthodox parties, something that could ruin any potential efforts by Kahol Lavan to form a coalition with them. Other sources said Lapid had made a calculated move meant to combat the defection of voters to Yisrael Beiteinu, whose leader, Avigdor Lieberman, has been waging an anti-Haredi campaign.