MARK WEISS in Jerusalem
ISRAELI OFFICIALS are stepping up their rhetoric, warning that another invasion of Gaza is just a matter of time.
Speaking as Israel launched two air strikes on militant targets in the strip, Israel’s top general, chief of staff Lieut Gen Benny Gantz, warned that cracks had emerged in Israel’s deterrence of militant groups and a second round of fighting was no longer a matter of choice for Israel.
“Such a round must be initiated by Israel and must be swift and painful. I do not advise Hamas to test our mettle.”
Militants launched at least four rockets at Israel yesterday after an Islamic Jihad gunman was killed and 10 other people injured in two Israeli air attacks on Tuesday night.
Gen Gantz made his comments on the third anniversary of the Gaza war which he described as “an excellent operation that achieved deterrence for Israel vis-a-vis Hamas”.
The three-week conflict, with the declared aim of stopping militant rocket fire targeting southern Israel, left 1,417 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
Rocket fire from Gaza has lessened since the Gaza war but the militant groups now possess longer-range projectiles that can hit huge areas of southern Israel, bringing more than a million Israelis into rocket range.
Col Tal Hermoni, commander of the army’s Gaza division’s south brigade, said the armed forces are ready for another war.
“The decision really is in the other side’s hands. If they don’t stop the rocket fire and prevent terror cells from leaving to Egypt in order to cross into Israel, we’ll launch a Gaza operation – and it will be a painful one.”
Shaul Mofaz, the chairman of the Knesset parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, said that the army needed to act vigorously to destroy militant cells and deter future attacks.
“Israel needed to respond differently to the violence coming from the Strip – not to occupy Gaza but to act in a way that would cause terrorist organisations to think twice before firing long-range missiles.”
Mr Mofaz, who served as defence minister after heading the army, said Israel had no choice but to carry out a military operation in order to defend itself and stressed that there needs to be more comprehensive operations carried out against militant leaders.
In a separate development, the Jerusalem municipality has approved the construction of another 130 homes in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo, built over the Green Line, on land captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the Jerusalem municipality decision.
“The international Quartet must accept responsibility for the fast pace of construction in the settlements, given the fact that they are neither legal nor legitimate,” he said.
He added that peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel will not be renewed before the construction in the settlements is halted.