On February 8th, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett gave an election campaign speech, calling for a “cold war” with Iran, as well as warned that Israeli could target Hamas leaders if violence from Gaza doesn’t stop.
Bennett claimed he was leading a change whereby Israel was targeting rocket factories not only in response to rocket launches, but also in reaction to the launches of balloons attached to incendiary devices.
“Every day that balloons are launched at us we are hitting Hamas targets,” Bennett said. “The targets are not [empty] hills. I personally look at aerial photos and approve every target. The targets are machines producing rockets, rocket factories, parts of [cross-border] tunnels. These days we are slowing their rocket production.”
He said he is not interested in more two- or three-day rounds of violence with Hamas.
He further elaborated that he was working on plans of a “significant” offensive to be started by Israel, at a moment chosen by it, and that it would fundamentally change the current status quo, without providing other details.
If there will be no other choice, he added, he would also launch military operations in the more immediate future, in which “nobody in the Hamas leadership will be immune.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned that Israel was prepared to carry out “crushing action” if launches from Gaza didn’t stop.
Netanyahu warned that similarly to what happened to one of the Islamic Jihad commanders, Baha Abu Al-Ata, in November.
“We’re prepared for crushing action against the terror groups in Gaza. Our actions are strong, and they’re not finished yet, to put it mildly.”
A Hamas spokesperson, Fawzi Barhoum, brushed off the threats, saying that they would not “frighten” the group.
Barhoum warned “the Zionist enemy against committing any foolishness against our people, its land, its holy places, and our people in the Gaza Strip,” saying Israel must bear the “consequences and repercussions” of such action.
Such threats, he said, “do not frighten us or confuse us” and will only serve to push Palestinians “to continue their struggle” using all means they have.
“These threats aim to cover up the crises that the Zionist entity suffers from, and the crimes, violations and annexation taking place in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Barhoum said.
Israel also appears to be preparing to carry out more annexations, as US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman warned that it should not do so, yet.
He cautioned that “the application of Israeli law to the territory which the Plan provides to be part of Israel is subject to the completion of a mapping process by a joint Israeli-American committee.”
“Any unilateral action in advance of the completion of the committee process endangers the Plan & American recognition,” he said.
Netanyahu has walked back his calls for immediate annexation of the West Bank. Addressing supporters, Netanyahu said mapping of the region was underway.
“We have been waiting for this since ’67 and people are making a big deal over a few weeks,” Netanyahu said.
David Friedman described Trump’s plan as one for the next 100 years and not 30 days.
“I would encourage everyone to take a step back and a deep breath because this is something that, if done right, can ensure Israel’s security and bring great prosperity and dignity to the Palestinians,” the ambassador said.
Meanwhile, the exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel is continuing, with the Palestinian side launching explosive balloons and sporadic rockets, while Israel Defense Forces responding with airstrikes on alleged Hamas positions, as it blames the group for any escalation.