Friday 20 September 2019

Gaza rocket fire pushing Israel to war - Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu: Plans in place to strike Palestinian strip. Photo: Reuters
Benjamin Netanyahu: Plans in place to strike Palestinian strip. Photo: Reuters

Aron Heller

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that continued rocket fire from Gaza was making another war against Palestinian militants in the coastal strip inevitable, his latest headline-grabbing announcement just days before he seeks re-election.

Mr Netanyahu said advanced plans were in place to strike Gaza and that he would decide the optimal timing of the offensive, given the unwillingness of Gaza's Hamas rulers to stop the daily barrages.

The recent attacks have caused no casualties. The Israeli military has responded with limited strikes against Hamas installations that have caused no casualties and little damage, and has refrained from risking a larger conflagration as Israelis prepare to head to the polls.

The Israeli leader has been criticised for failing to respond harshly to the rockets, which have sent residents of southern Israel racing for cover. Mr Netanyahu, who counts on the working-class Gaza border towns as part of his electoral base, was himself whisked away by bodyguards from a campaign event on Tuesday when Palestinian militants fired rockets toward the area.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and Hamas militants seized power two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and engaged in several other rounds of violence over the past decade.

"I do not wage war unless it is a last resort and I don't risk the lives of our soldiers and citizens just to get applause," Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet Radio. "We will probably have no choice but to set out on a big campaign, a war against the terror forces in Gaza.

"I won't start it one minute before we are ready, and we are preparing for a 'different war'," he added, shortly before flying to Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

It was Mr Netanyahu's first major interview with a mainstream media outlet in a frenetic campaign in which he has been dictating the agenda with a dizzying array of manoeuvres.

Just this week, he alleged fraud in Arab voting areas without providing any evidence, and pushed for legislation to place cameras in polling stations. He also claimed to have located a previously unknown Iranian nuclear weapons facility and vowed to annex the heart of the West Bank if he wins re-election.

His pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley sparked international condemnation. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said it would be a "serious violation of international law".

Jordan, one of only two Arab states to have reached a peace agreement with Israel, condemned Mr Netanyahu's "catastrophic" announcement.

Irish Independent

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