Netanyahu cancels AIPAC speech, cuts US trip short in wake of rocket attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will depart the U.S. earlier than planned to deal with the security situation following Monday morning’s rocket attack.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will cut his U.S. trip short to oversee Israel’s response to Monday morning’s rocket attack from the Gaza Strip that injured seven people in an area northeast of Tel Aviv.

AIPAC announced to its members that the prime minister will not be addressing the policy conference on Tuesday morning. Netanyahu will keep his scheduled meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday. Trump is expected to sign a presidential memorandum favoring Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights.

In a video, Netanyahu says that he will “immediately afterward return to Israel to oversee our response first-hand.”

What sets Monday’s rocket attack from others is not just the number injured — seven, including young children — but its location northeast of Tel Aviv.

Although Israel’s south has endured ongoing bombardment from Gaza since last year, southern residents, despite protests, have not been able to generate broad public support in Israel for decisive action against the terror-ruled enclave.

Rockets hitting the center of the country are far less common, however, and quickly arouse the Israeli population’s attention in ways attacks on the south do not.

Monday’s attack follows two rockets that exploded over Holon, a city just south of Tel Aviv, on March 14. One rocket was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and another fell into an open field. Although no injuries were reported, that incident, too, caused a stir. Hamas claimed it was not responsible and those rockets were a misfire.

Although Hamas has claimed the very same thing this time, Israel is unlikely to swallow the same excuse twice. Netanyahu described Monday’s incident as a “criminal attack on Israel and we will respond forcefully.”

Netanyahu has been criticized for his government’s handling of rocket fire from Gaza, a problem for which Israel has not found an effective solution. The storm of criticism from opposition leaders after this latest attack may have influenced his decision to cut his stay in the U.S. short.

Former IDF Chief-of-Staff Benny Gantz, now leader of the Blue and White party, said that Netanyahu should return immediately to deal with the situation. “Netanyahu has lost his grip on security and Israeli citizens are again facing sirens and a direct hit on a house,” Gantz said in a statement.

Moshe Ya’alon, the number three man in the Blue and White party, who also once served as chief-of-staff, said in a particularly tough statement, “Netanyahu lost security. Someone who turns Israel’s citizens into hostages of Hamas, who surrenders to blackmail and pays millions of dollars in protection money to murderers.

“Someone who ignores the daily violation of sovereignty, who has been heedless for a year to burning kites, ignores explosive balloons, burning fields, mines on the border, mortar shells and rockets in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip. Even in Sharon [site of the latest attack].

“Netanyahu surrendered to terror – the time has come for a strong, experienced and responsible leadership that will return security to the citizens of Israel. ”

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay also joined the chorus of criticism, saying of Monday’s attack, “Netanyahu is responsible for the poor security situation. He lost [the power of] deterrence and strengthened Hamas. … The beautiful speeches and the money bags that Netanyahu transfers to Hamas do not provide security.”

The references to “protection money” and “money bags” concerns the $15 million monthly installments stuffed into suitcases and delivered to Hamas beginning in November, 2018. The money is provided by Qatar but Israel permits the transfers. The money is meant to pay for civil servant salaries, but Israel admits some of it goes to line Hamas’s pockets.

Netanyahu defended the decision at the time, saying  “We did it to avoid a humanitarian collapse in Gaza and to avoid unnecessary war. We don’t want a war. I do everything that I can to avoid unnecessary war – I am not afraid of war if it is necessary, but I want to prevent it when it is not necessary.”