Israeli Merkava tanks drive near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip as they return from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian coastal enclave on August 5, 2014 (Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

Netanyahu: War with Hamas ‘Inevitable’

Hamas spokesman says the ‘resistance’ doesn’t seek military confrontation

Five days ahead of the Israeli election, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Thursday that a war to end Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip seems “inevitable.”

But during an interview with Israeli Radio, Netanyahu had a stern message for members of his cabinet who have been demanding an offensive against Hamas, the Islamist armed group that rules Gaza, urging them to stop promoting a military operation.

“There will be one, but I will not start it before we are ready. I don’t work via tweets. But apparently there is no choice but to overthrow Hamas,” the prime minister said.

On Tuesday night, bodyguards rushed Netanyahu off stage during an election rally in the southern city of Ashdod, when rocket warning sirens sounded. Ashdod, a port city with about 225,000 residents, was under rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

“If Hamas is shooting at us during a live broadcast, you can understand that they don’t want us here,” Netanyahu told supporters. “So prepare for another one [attack]. We’ll evacuate [to bomb shelters], and then we’ll return,” he said.

Netanyahu resumed his speech some 20 minutes later.

The speech was being carried live on the Likud party Facebook page, but it was removed after the sirens sounded.

Around 9 pm, Gazans fired two intermediate-range rockets at Ashdod, which is located approximately 22 miles from the Strip. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepted one of the projectiles, while the second hit in an open area, causing no injuries.

In response, the Israeli military struck 15 Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave, including weapons manufacturing sites and a subterranean tunnel.

Husam Dajani, a Gaza-based analyst who teaches political science at Ummah Open University, told The Media Line that the military escalation was caused by the continuing “Israeli occupation of the Strip,” which was maintaining an “unjust” siege.

Israel left Gaza entirely in the 2005 disengagement, but Israel and Egypt maintain strict control ever entry and exit from the Strip, saying this is necessary to prevent movement of terrorists and entry of material that could be used to build weapons and military infrastructure. Palestinians say this means Israel still occupies the area.

“The main reason for the escalation is Israel’s continued violation of the agreements that were signed with the Palestinian leadership under international mediation,” Dajani said.

Moreover, he cited American bias toward Israel as another cause of violence, saying it destroyed any hope for the peace process to succeed. “People in Gaza don’t have the most basic elements of life, which is against all the legitimate international resolutions,” he said.

Dajani stressed, however, that a military confrontation was unlikely before the Israeli election set for next Tuesday, barring an exceptional event, for instance a rocket striking an Israeli home or public area and killing civilians.

But, he added, “Netanyahu’s popularity has fallen since he escaped the rocket in Ashdod on Tuesday, which could push him to start a war in Gaza, especially if Netanyahu feels like he might lose the election,” Dajani concluded.

Munir al-Jaghoub, the head of the Information Department in Fatah’s Office of Mobilization and Organization, told The Media Line that what was happening in Gaza was related to extremist groups that had turned against Hamas after its indirect negotiations with Israel, and to unjust Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians.

“The situation in the Strip is connected to the blockade that Israel still hasn’t lifted,” Jaghoub said. “It’s clear from Netanyahu’s speech that he is considering a war in Gaza, especially to save himself from losing [the election].”

Hazem Qassem, a Gaza-based Hamas spokesman, told The Media Line that Israel was the one threatening to start a war, while the “Palestinian resistance” in Gaza did not want a military confrontation.

“The continuation of the Israeli occupation’s violations against Gaza and Jerusalem, as well as against the Palestinian prisoners, is the cause behind the tensions in the region,” Qassem said. “Netanyahu is trying to overcome electoral challenges from the Israeli opposition via Gaza.”

Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and deputy foreign minister, told The Media Line that the situation in Gaza would not develop into a full-scale war, as that would be against the interests of both Israel, because of next week’s election, and of Hamas.

“They [Hamas] would be destroyed [in a war]. One is only in the interest of Iran, which operates through its proxies [in Gaza], Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other rogue terrorist groups,” Ayalon said.

Lior Akerman, an analyst and former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), told The Media Line, “The reason for the escalation is very simple.

“On one hand, Hamas has a vested interest in continuing its medium-scale fire, in order to maintain its relevance. On the other hand, it does not want to go into actual combat, where it would be defeated militarily,” Akerman said.

“This equation probably suits Netanyahu, who is interested in preserving the Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, to avoid the need for political negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said

“The rise and fall in the scale of the violence is merely a product of the desire to keep the violence on a medium flame, without bringing about an overall war,” Akerman added.

“Hamas is also taking advantage of the election period in Israel, knowing that until the vote, Israel will not undertake difficult and dramatic actions,” he continued.

“It is to be assumed at this stage that there will be no all-out war, because neither party has an interest one. However, such a war is likely inevitable in the future,” Akerman said.

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