When weighing Gaza actions, ministers reportedly looked to Iran threat in north

Source: When weighing Gaza actions, ministers reportedly looked to Iran threat in north | The Times of Israel

At security cabinet meeting Thursday on violence in the south, Netanyahu and allies said to have pushed for calm, citing need to focus on Tehran’s presence in Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (2nd-L) meet with top IDF generals and Israeli security officials at the military's Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (2nd-L) meet with top IDF generals and Israeli security officials at the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on August 9, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

A leading consideration as top ministers deliberated Thursday how to respond to ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip was the need to focus on the northern border with Syria and the Iranian threat emanating from there, Channel 10 news reported Friday.

According to the TV report, ministers at the emergency security cabinet meeting were informed that the Hamas terror group had made several appeals for a ceasefire through mediator Egypt as well as via the UN.

Unnamed ministers present at the meeting told the broadcaster that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed for an end to the latest round of fighting, rather than a widening of Israeli operations against Hamas and other Gaza terror groups.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, a top ally of Netanyahu, reportedly championed that same line, telling ministers a war in Gaza would not serve Israeli interests, as Jerusalem now needed to focus on the chief threat to national security — Iran’s attempts to entrench itself in Syria along the Israeli border.

Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon and has carried out dozens of air strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

Channel 10 reported that IDF officials at the meeting agreed that Israel could content itself with the actions it had taken so far and not widen the campaign, noting that Hamas had suffered serious damage through Israeli strikes on key sites.

Most ministers agreed with Netanyahu and Steinitz’s line of reasoning, the report said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attend the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

However, a key opponent was said to be Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who called for a tougher Israeli response, claiming stopping the military actions against Hamas targets now would harm Israeli deterrence. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin was said to have sided with Liberman.

The security cabinet eventually elected to move to end the current round of violence, although an official statement issued after the forum adjourned said the army had been instructed to continue to act against terrorists in Gaza.

Some two hours later, Hamas announced that a ceasefire had been agreed upon. Israel later denied that it had signed onto any truce.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry said Israel responded as long as Hamas was firing rockets, and halted its attacks when Hamas did the same.

The ministry and the PMO denied Channel 10’s account of the meeting, saying the military had been instructed to prepare for all eventualities. They refused to provide further details.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (c) speaks at a briefing with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (R) and Head of Northern Command Yoel Strick on August 7, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The government came under criticism Friday for the alleged ceasefire from local community leaders near Gaza, who called the truce a “mistake” and said Israel must find a permanent solution to the recurrent rounds of violence, either through diplomacy or through military force.

Over Wednesday and Thursday, some 180 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel.

The projectiles injured at least seven people and caused damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure throughout the region, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

In response, the Israeli Air Force struck over 150 Hamas sites in the Strip, the army said. Palestinian officials said a pregnant woman and her infant daughter were killed in the Israeli strikes, along with one Hamas fighter, who was reportedly in a car used by a rocket-launching Hamas cell that was targeted by an IDF aircraft. The IDF said it only targeted military sites.

On Thursday evening, the Israeli Air Force flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza that served as a headquarters for Hamas’s internal security service, the army said.

A picture taken on August 9, 2018, shows people inspecting the rubble of a building targeted by the Israeli Air Force in response to a rocket attack that hit southern Israel earlier in the day on August 9, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The IDF said the strike on the building in the northern Gaza Strip, which also served as a cultural center in the coastal enclave, was in response to “rocket fire by the Hamas terror group against the city of Beersheba earlier in the day.”

Hamas announced the ceasefire hours after the bombing of the building in Gaza. The border remained quiet until Friday’s weekly border protest.

On Friday evening, Israeli tanks shelled two Hamas observation posts in Gaza in response to riots on the border, during which a grenade, bombs and Molotov cocktails were hurled at soldiers, and attempts were made to breach the security fence. Hamas had called for mass attendance at the protests.

Around 9,000 people participated in the protests. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that two Palestinians were killed in the riots. It said over 300 people were hurt, of whom dozens were shot by Israeli troops.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

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