Major ground operation in Gaza inevitable, warns Israeli minister

According to Smotrich, deterrence has been reestablished for the time being.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich gave good grades to the just-completed Operation Shield and Arrow while saying that the real solution would only be dismantling its whole terrorist infrastructure.

While only “time will tell if this peace will last,” he said in an interview on Sunday with Kan Reshet Bet. “It was a very good operation, it sent a clear message to Hamas and the Iranians about our capabilities and deterrence in the face of attempts to raise their heads. I think there is a change of direction; this is a message to everyone who deals with us in the region.”

The IDF had great success in hitting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization hard over the last five days, he said, damaging it “more significant[ly] than the previous operation.”

Israel struck 170 PIJ targets last August in the 66-hour Operation Breaking Dawn, and killed two of its senior commanders, Tayseer Jabari and Khaled Mansour. In the current operation, the IAF successfully assassinated six of PIJ’s military leaders and hit 422 military targets, including many rocket-launching teams and sites.

However, “we did not solve all the problems,” which he said were caused by having expelled the Jews from Gush Katif in 2005, “and even further back, in Oslo,” where “we created a lot of problematic situations.”

The Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 created the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Gaza Strip and sections of Judea and Samaria so that some 97% of the Palestinian population would be governed by their own administration. In 2007, Hamas overthrew the PA in Gaza and has held the coastal enclave in its Islamic grip ever since.

“Gaza is a difficult problem, we’re in a bad ritual,” he said, seemingly referring to the counter-terror operations Israel has to undertake there every year or two to renew its deterrence after it is determined that there have been too many rocket launches and attempted terror attacks against civilians on the ground emanating from the terror organizations there.

Smotrich acknowledged that Operation Shield and Arrow had been focused only on PIJ, which is a direct Iranian proxy and the second-largest terror group in Gaza, rather than Hamas, “after weighing all the considerations.” This, even though “it is Israel’s position that Hamas is the sovereign in Gaza and bears responsibility” for all that happens in the Strip.

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Hamas has also “suffered severe damage in recent weeks to its infrastructure,” he said, adding, “Our big challenge will be that the peace is not used to strengthen the other side. We saw it with Hezbollah in the north and I hope we won’t see it with Hamas and Jihad in the south.”

The bottom line was clear to the head of the right-wing Religious Zionist party, even if he could set no time-line for it.

“It will be necessary to take care of the root of the problem,” he said. “In my opinion, at the end we’ll have to dismantle Gaza and disarm it of its weapons.”