Erdan: Israel on cusp of wider campaign in Gaza

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets with new IDF and Border Police recruits yesterday.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

COGAT head blames Iran for stirring up the Hamas-run enclave

A day after Israel faced fire on both the Syrian and Gazan fronts, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told recruits on Thursday that Israel “will do what is necessary to maintain our security, not just for the communities in the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip but for the State of Israel.”
“We are conducting difficult fronts – both in the South and the North,” Netanyahu told the recruits to the Paratroop Brigade and the Border Police at the induction base at Tel Hashomer.
Asked particularly about the situation on the Gaza border after the five-day cease-fire was violated by Hamas sniper fire that wounded a soldier on Wednesday triggering a sharp Israeli response that killed three militants in Gaza, Netanyahu replied that Israel is in a campaign that “entails an exchange of blows, but in the end it is a test of willpower. We are exhausting every possibility, but we are very, very determined to defend our borders.”
Following IAF air strikes in Gaza, rocket sirens were heard multiple times in areas bordering the Gaza Strip overnight and early Thursday, as the IDF confirmed nine projectiles were fired at Israel from the coastal enclave. The IDF reported at least two were intercepted by Iron Dome batteries. The remainder fell in open areas, causing neither damages nor injuries.
The escalation of violence began late Wednesday when a Hamas sniper shot and injured an IDF officer who was evacuated to a nearby hospital. The IDF responded with a number of air strikes in Gaza.
During the course of the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a phone consultation with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat to discuss developments in both Gaza and the North.
Egyptian officials and UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov were busy again on Thursday trying to stave off an escalation in Gaza. Last weekend, both Egypt and the UN envoy reportedly prevented a wider Israeli-Hamas confrontation after a sniper attack from Gaza killed IDF soldier Aviv Levi, leading to the harshest Israeli attacks on Gaza since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, said in a message to the residents of the Gaza Strip that “Iran, by means of their terror organization in the Strip, is attempting to drag Gaza into a war at your expense.”
Writing on COGAT’s Arabic-language Facebook page “al-Muna Seq,” Rokon said the pro-Shi’ite organization “al-Tzabarin,” supported by Iran, was responsible for yesterday’s rocket fire, and that Iran is using that group to drag Gaza towards escalation. Iran has transferred funds via al-Tzabarin to finance the violent disturbances on the fence, in what has been termed “the Great March of Return.”
Public Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told Kan radio: “It appears that we are getting close to a wider operation with Hamas – a situation where the IDF will need to embark on a wide-scale operation.”
“It is clear that after four years of quiet since Operation Protective Edge, residents are back in an unacceptable situation. There are rocket sirens at night and children in shelters,” he said. Erdan added that if Hamas does not get the message Israel is trying to send through its current level of response, then “we will have to return to a broad military operation that will exact a price, at least as much as Operation Protective Edge, if not more than that.”
Erdan also discussed the rockets from Syria that fell in the Sea of Galilee on Wednesday as part of the spillover from the Syrian Civil War, now taking place precariously near the Syrian-Israeli border on the Golan Heights.
Erdan stressed that Israel would not tolerate spillovers from the fighting in Syria and – as Netanyahu has stressed on numerous occasions – would not accept any Iranian presence in the Syria.
Erdan stressed Israel would respond to every incident on its borders, saying, “We must deal with chaos on our northern border.”
“When the Syrians are fighting against each other, there can be spillover. We must always respond. Our policy does not change whether it is a fighter jet or a rocket,” he said.
Israel hit the rocket launcher and shelled the area from where the rockets that fell into the Sea of Galilee were fired.
Tovah Lazaroff and Avraham Gold contributed to this report.
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