“The new rules of the game are clear—the IDF will operate freely, without any limitation,” Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said on Thursday, a short while after a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) went into effect, ending two days of intense rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip.
Bennett, who took up his post as defense minister on Tuesday as rockets fell across central and southern Israel following the targeted killing of PIJ commander Baha Abu al-Ata, singled out residents of the country’s southern, Gaza-adjacent communities for special praise over their handling of the crisis.
“I’m proud of our soldiers, who stand vigilant, and of the Israeli public,” said Bennett, “especially the residents of the south, who show the kind of resilience that bolsters the decision-makers.”
According to a statement by the Israeli military on Thursday, in the wake of the strike on Abu al-Ata, code-named “Operation Black Belt,” PIJ fired 450 rockets at Israel within a 48-hour period. Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense system intercepted 90 percent of projectiles aimed at residential areas and strategic sites, the military said.
The Israel Air Force mounted four waves of airstrikes against PIJ in Gaza, killing 25 terrorists and eliminating rocket production sites and launch sites, according to the military.
A senior Israeli political source told Israel Hayom on Thursday that the “operation achieved its goal,” and that Israel “has given nothing” to secure the ceasefire. The source added that “the situation on the ground will set the tone going forward. There’s no change in policy. If anyone tries to harm us, we will harm them.”
United Nations envoy to the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Egypt and the United Nations had “worked hard” to prevent the situation from deteriorating into a full-fledged war, calling on all the parties to show “maximum restraint” to avoid further bloodshed.
Also on Thursday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio that he believes the ultimate solution for the situation in Gaza is the creation of economic prospects for the Palestinians.
He stressed, however, that Israel must maintain an aggressive policy against those who would threaten it, and pointed to the fact that Hamas—the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip—stayed out of the fighting as being an indication that Israel’s policy of deterrence was working.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid disagreed, however, saying on Thursday that “Israeli deterrence is practically nonexistent,” and adding that the country’s southern residents “don’t feel safe.”
While “Operation Black Belt” was an “extraordinary” achievement, said Lapid, on its own it was not enough to change the overall situation.
“[The strike against Abu al-Ata] was an extraordinary operational and intelligence achievement, but it was a single event,” said Lapid. “The compromise [Israel made] with Islamic Jihad is not good, and it will only lead to the next round of violence. If you reward Islamic Jihad for firing 400 rockets, Hamas won’t be able to sit on its hands. This compromise isn’t good because it didn’t change anything.”
Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan blasted Lapid’s remarks, writing on Twitter: “There’s no compromise to speak of, and you know it. Islamic Jihad opted to hold its fire and it got nothing in return. This [the strike on Abu al-Ata] was a proactive, lethal operation by Israel to generate deterrence and it sent terrorists the message that their days are numbered.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who heads the Shas Party, said that Israel “has no interest in a prolonged round of violence. We’re trying to reach understandings with Hamas and you can see that they want that too—they haven’t joined the fighting.”
Labor MK Itzik Shmuli said on Thursday that a diplomatic solution must be devised for the Gaza Strip alongside a military one.
“It’s a good thing that Israel sent Baha Abu al-Ata and several of his friends to the next world,” said Shmuli, “but the problem of Gaza remains even after this round of fighting. It’s clear that the military solution for Gaza cannot be the only one, and that alongside it there must be a diplomatic solution of civilian restoration in exchange for the disarming of the Gaza Strip. Otherwise, the next round is already approaching.”
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.