Hamas is forcing Israel into a situation that may demand a "broad, painful military operation" that will be larger than the one in 2014, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Friday.
"We are trying to be measured and responsible, but the leaders of Hamas are leading us into a situation in which there is no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a broad and painful military operation, not only for appearances," Lieberman said on a visit to the southern Israeli city of Sderot, adding that such an operation would be "more painful than Operation Protective Edge" for Hamas. "Unfortunately, residents of Gaza will be among those who will have to pay the price," he said.
The defense minister suggested the possibility of easing economic restrictions on Gaza in exchange for "a total cessation of terror and provocations at the [border] fence." Hamas rejected Friday morning a similar idea was raised in an op-ed by aides to U.S. President Donald Trump.
Lieberman also referred to the many fires in Israel started by balloons and kites from Gaza, saying: "We all saw in the newspaper that because of the kites and because of the fires, we're not going to war – although any reasonable person who sees natural woodlands burned, thousands of acres of agricultural fields burned, understands that the situation is unreasonable. We are acting with responsibility and restrain, even though the real problem is the erosion of deterrence, a change in the equation and of course the sense of security, which is no less important than security itself."
The defense minister also detailed steps Israel has taken against Hamas in recent months since the beginning of weekly marches at the border fence. "There are 159 dead terrorists, there are some 5,000 wounded, we damaged crucial infrastructure belonging to Hamas, including production facilities, a munitions depot, a central training facility, [and] we struck two tunnels " that took three to four years to build, Lieberman said. He further noted that Israel dropped nearly 50 tons of munitions on such strategic targets last week during the most serious flare-up between Israel and Gaza militants since 2014.