Head to Head / Minister Gilad Erdan, Is Israel Planning an Extensive Military Operation in Gaza?

Erdan attacks the Kadima party over its campaign to have Israel begin a widespread military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan also serves as the minister who liaises between the government and the Knesset. Erdan represented the government at a special session of the Knesset Tuesday, called during the summer recess in view of the deterioration in the security situation in the south. During the debate, Erdan attacked the Kadima party over its campaign to have Israel begin a widespread military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Minister Gilad Erdan, does the Israeli government plan to start an extensive military operation in the Gaza Strip?

Gilad Erdan at Rothschild tents - Yariv Katz - August 2011
Yariv Katz

At this stage, I believe there is no intention of engaging in a widespread military operation. I also am of the opinion this would not be wise from the diplomatic point of view. The Israel Defense Forces acted [last week] after the terrorist attack, wiped out the leadership of the terrorist organization that was behind the assault and hit targets in the Gaza Strip. If we are talking about an extensive operation on the ground, I don’t think it would be right to begin an operation of that kind now, and I hope we will not wage one, even though this is an option that it is forbidden to take off the table.

Why is it not diplomatically sound to increase the military operation in Gaza?

We are in a sensitive period right now, both in anticipation of the debates at the United Nations [General Assembly] and the Security Council over recognition of a Palestinian state, and also in view of the regional situation in the Middle East, in countries such as Egypt and others. It would not be right for the State of Israel to provide pretexts and reasons for radical elements to initiate terrorist activities against Israel, or to supply these organizations with a motive to continue their activity against Israel. Therefore, it is clear that every attack must be met with a response and every [planned] attack must be thwarted before it takes place, to the extent this is possible.

That has been the prime minister’s policy from the first moment we were in power. But we are not yet in a situation that makes it necessary to wage an extensive military operation.
One criticism of the decision not to begin a widespread operation in Gaza is that Israel is losing its deterrent power vis a vis the terrorist organizations that are active there...

To my way of thinking, that is a hollow political argument. Unequivocally, we have not lost any deterrent ability in the Gaza Strip. The IDF reacted immediately to last week’s terrorist attack and wiped out the leadership of the organization that was responsible for the assault. Therefore, in my opinion, the message was sent across in a very clear fashion.

Following the Israeli attack in the Strip, Hamas and the terrorist organizations understood that only a cease-fire would prevent serious harm to them, and the fact is they announced a cease-fire unilaterally.

Q:How do you explain the fact that Kadima is trying to bypass Likud from the right and is waging a campaign calling on Israel to open an extensive military operation in the Gaza Strip? [Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz and other Knesset members from that party have expressed strong sentiments on the subject in recent days and have promised the prime minister a “safety net” to make it possible for him to engage in a significant military move.

Tzipi Livni is currently in the framework of the primary in Kadima. In this framework, she is trying to present herself as a combatant, a security-oriented person, a Likudnik who wants to hit out at Hamas with all possible force. It should perhaps be recalled that during Livni’s term of office as foreign minister, the Kadima government was not in a hurry to begin Operation Cast Lead and did so, in the end, only when the election campaigns began, when the situation became insufferable. Since the disengagement from Gaza, there has been a constant trickle of Qassam rockets and Grads, and only when the situation really became unbearable was the operation decided upon. Livni is the last person who can preach to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has behaved responsibly all the way in this affair.

Are you afraid that Kadima will succeed in fixing an image in the public’s imagination of Netanyahu as being not sufficiently tough? And is the decision to attack Netanyahu from the right, a wise decision?

I think this tactic won’t succeed. The public has not lost its memory. It remembers the futile way in which the Kadima government ended the Second Lebanon War as well as Operation Cast Lead. We are talking about a cynical political attempt to balance the extreme left-wing political image of Tzipi Livni and the defeatist positions she expressed during the negotiations she conducted with the Palestinians. Livni is balancing this with a false tough-fist approach. She is competing for the leadership of Kadima against a former chief of staff, who is gaining strength. She is trying to camouflage herself in the guise of a Likudnik who will strike Hamas hard and on whom people can rely, with regard to security affairs, so that her positions will not be influenced by the diplomatic defeatism that she showed [previously]. But the public won’t buy it.

Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of staff and defense minister, is now serving as chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He has years of experience in the field of security. He, too, is attacking Netanyahu’s security policies with regard to the Gaza Strip. Is he also speaking only out of political considerations?

Mofaz took the opposite course. In the framework of his striving for the leadership of Kadima, he published a diplomatic program with the recommendation to negotiate with Hamas. Today, without blinking, Mofaz is proposing the Hamas regime be overthrown, the regime that he recommended only recently should be negotiated with. I am certainly sorry that the debate on this issue is so superficial, but we will not be dragged into emotionally loaded solutions. The true solutions will continue to be a threat to the heads of the terror organizations, so they should know they are likely to be personally harmed, and parallel to that, to finish the construction of the ‏(border‏) fence in the south. I announced, in the name of the government, our commitment to finish setting up the fence on the border with Egypt by the end of 2012, about another year, and before the original target date planned for 2013. The prime minister has already ensured that there will be a budget for this. Seven contracting companies are working together on this at full − and speeded-up − pace.

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee headed by Mofaz is due in a few days to publish a scathing report about the preparations made by the government in anticipation of September events. Do you feel Mofaz is using the committee to advance personal political interests?

I do not believe there’s anyone who thinks differently. When, at the beginning of the term of office, the race to head Kadima was still far off, Shaul Mofaz operated in the following fashion: He hit out at Livni, on the one hand, and tried to join the government, on the other hand.

Now that the elections are getting closer, Mofaz is not acting differently. He has gone over to attacking the prime minister and is making use of any tool that he can get hold of, including the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Isn’t this legitimate conduct for the opposition?

I regret all the conduct of Kadima because without Kadima realizing it, their conduct is helping all of those trying to delegitimize the State of Israel. Mofaz and Livni have joined all the rivals that Israel has in the world and the Palestinian Authority, and they say the prime minister is responsible for the fact that negotiations are not being held. This, despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbas is doing everything possible to prevent negotiations of this kind.

He is raising demands that he did not raise in the past, and he has made a treaty with Hamas. Instead of assisting the state in this matter, the Kadima people make cynical political use of the differences of opinion between them and us, and they assist in delegitimizing [Israel]. I think that’s very regrettable.