Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has called for military action against Hamas as a long-term ceasefire cannot be brokered.
His remarks came days after calls from mediators for protesters to rein in violence resulted in ‘calmer’ protests last Friday according to IDF officials.
The next Hamas border protest is planned for tomorrow and is seen as a major test of whether Israeli warnings of an escalation in response are being heeded by the terror group.
Israel has demanded an end to weekly confrontations, as well as launches of incendiary balloons into Israeli territory.
Speaking at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting earlier this week, Lieberman held the view that Israel has exhausted all options.
And he is not alone in the viewpoint that a military operation is the only solution remaining in the Gaza Strip.
“Nothing less than than striking Hamas with the hardest and heaviest blow will help us in Gaza,” he said.
“It has not worked in the past; it does not work now and it will not work in the future.”
Lieberman added, “The State of Israel does not have the luxury of conducting wars when there is an alternative, but we have reached a point where there isn’t one.
“We have exhausted all options and now a decision has to be made.”
The Defence Minister addressed reopening the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings just days after rocket attack in Be’er Sheva, which destroyed a residential home.
“They have a new tool called the March of Return and we have the border crossings,” he explained.
“I am trying to create a direct correlation between the level of violence and the economic activity. When there is violence, Gaza’s economy will have to sustain losses.”
Discussing the weekly protests that have continued for more than six months, he noted, “The border protests are an act of institutionalised violence initiated by Hamas.
“Thousands of people arrive on buses and for each bus Hamas pays thousands of shekels, 3,000 for someone being killed, 500 for seriously wounded and 250 for those wounded moderately or lightly.”
Major General Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, a former head of intelligence agreed with Lieberman’s viewpoint on the escalating issue.
“Although the strategic deterrence against Hamas still exists, because they do not want us to reoccupy Gaza, with regards to border conflict, there is no deterrence, and if we do not restore it, the lives of the Gaza border region residents will become hell.”
Ze’evi-Farkash added that the Be’er Sheva attack is Hamas’s way of deterring Israel.
Lieberman and Ze’evi-Farkash‘s remarks followed ongoing ceasefire discussions held by Egyptian and UN mediators between Israel and Hamas just 24 hours after the Be’er Sheva incident.
Be’er Sheva almost escalated a response, but Security Cabinet ministers eventually decided against launching a military operation in Gaza following Israeli intelligence that the rocket fire was ultimately due to a malfunction caused by lightning storm on Tuesday night into Wednesday.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad were reportedly embarrassed.
Whilst an IDF escalation was averted, UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov described Gaza as a “powder keg” and called on all sides to step back from the brink of war.
“We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to prevent,” he told the UN Security Council by video link from Jerusalem.
“I am afraid that there is no more time for words.
“Now is the time for action and we must see very clear actions on all sides that de-escalate the situation.
“Otherwise, the consequences will be terrible for everyone.”
Mladenov added that Hamas and other terror groups must immediately stop all provocations and attacks, attempts to breach the border fence, end use of incendiary balloons and kites, and halt tunnel construction.
In return, he noted that Israel must restore critical supplies to Gaza and improve access of goods and people.
Mladenov added, “Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live ammunition.”
An IAF aircraft struck a terrorist cell after it launched incendiary balloons into Israeli territory last Saturday.
Earlier in the day fires broke out in Kissufim, Beeri and Shokeda Forests in the Gaza region.
Firefighting teams responded and no injuries were reported.
A day earlier, an IDF spokesman noted border clashes were the calmest since protests began seven months ago amid mediator calls for protesters to curb violence.
Around 10,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the Gaza Strip border but the IDF said most kept their distance and very few threw explosive devices.
Whilst a few did breach the border, the IDF noted that infiltration incidents were “being monitored”.
The coming days will see if Hamas is responding to mediator appeals.