Kachol Lavan Party leader and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz laid out his own alternative plan for dealing with the Gazan threat during a visit to Israel’s rocket-stricken south on Sunday.
Speaking before a ceasefire went into effect early on Monday, Gantz praised local communities for their ability to continue to function under heavy rocket fire. Addressing a meeting of local council representatives, he stated, “What the State of Israel needs to do is very simple. It needs to increase attacks, to act with great power against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in a manner that will bring back deterrence to the right and correct place.”
Once Israeli deterrence is restored, he said, the second objective should be to “initiate a diplomatic-political process that will harness external powers to this place, and create a situation in which the gaps between the rounds of fighting increase.”
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the reported Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, stressing that the fight against Hamas was not over.
“Over the past two days, we have hit Hamas and Islamic Jihad with great force, attacking over 350 targets and terrorist leaders and activists, and destroying terrorist infrastructure,” he said in a statement.
“The campaign is not over, and requires patience and judgment. We are preparing to continue,” the prime minister added. “The goal was and remains to ensure the peace and security of the residents of the south. I send condolences to the families and wish a speedy recovery for the wounded.”
The way to do that, he explained during a subsequent interview with the Ynet news site, is to bring in regional states and the international community to develop Gaza’s collapsing infrastructure, rather than give in to Hamas’s “extortion methods” and allow Qatari cash to reach it directly.
“I believe that if we do this, we can increase the time between [military] campaigns. And we can do this without taking on ourselves this ‘fine’ called Gaza. The prime minister must choose who he talks to. If he wishes to talk to Hamas, he can, but that’s not right. Hamas does not recognize the State of Israel, and until that changes, it is a mistake to negotiate with it. The other alternatives are the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, who can cooperate.”
‘Is the government doing anything to change the situation?’
Such a plan can see Gaza receive badly needed civilian infrastructure and enable Israel to disconnect itself from the Strip, argued Gantz.
“We must return the initiative to our hands. At the moment, the initiative is in the hands of Hamas and the terror organizations. They are the ones who dictate the agenda for the State of Israel. It’s logical for the State of Israel to be dictating the agenda. If they turn to us with force, they will encounter a lot more force—and we have force,” he said.
Israel must also have a top-priority policy of strengthening and investing in the border communities near Gaza, said Gantz.
Gantz criticized the Netanyahu government for failing to take these steps in the three-and-half years of calm that followed the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge,” adding, “I hope they do it now.”
“I don’t think we need to ask what we should do when there are escalations. We should be asking this mainly when there is no fighting. Is the government doing anything to change this situation?” he asked.
“What will the cabinet discuss in its meeting? What targets were attacked? Or a diplomatic solution? They should be talking about the latter,” said Gantz.
The former chief of staff, who commanded the IDF during its seven-week conflict with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza in 2014, called on the government to “tell the public the truth. The truth, in my eyes, is that we must launch a diplomatic process, and prioritize the Palestinian Authority and regional states. To say ‘we are not doing anything’ is not an option.”