Photo: Flash90

Netanyahu: IDF op not on ‘stopwatch’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed determination to press on with Operation Guardian of the Walls against Gaza’s Hamas rulers “until its objective is achieved to restore quiet and security.”

During an earlier briefing to over 70 foreign envoys to Israel, Netanyahu was cited as saying that “We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time, so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”

“Thank you for your support. It warms our heart to see that,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said to the foreign ambassadors and diplomatic representatives from nations including the United States, European Union, Russia, China, India, Germany, Austria, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Canada and Italy, pointing out that “Some of the governments (represented) here have actually had the Israeli flag flown on their building during a very difficult moment for us. We appreciate that and we appreciate the expressions of support that came from all of you.”

See Prime Minister Netanyahu’s full statement below.

Netanyahu has repeatedly hailed what he has described as support from his nation’s strongest ally, the United States, for asserting Israel’s right to self-defense in combatting the ongoing rocket barrage from Gaza.

US President Joe Biden also conveyed his expectation for Israel to lower the intensity of the conflict during a telephone conversation with Netanyahu yesterday.

“The two leaders had a detailed discussion on the state of events in Gaza, Israel’s progress in degrading the capabilities of Hamas and other terrorist elements, and ongoing diplomatic efforts by regional governments and the United States,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, adding that “The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also discussed efforts to end the violence during a telephone call with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi yesterday.

According to State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, Secretary Blinken “noted that the United States would remain engaged with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and regional stakeholders in the days ahead, and reinforced the message that the US expects to see de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire.”

Hamas Spokesman Hazem Qassam responded to the US de-escalation appeal by saying that there will only be “room to talk about arrangements to restore calm” after those who say they are seeking it “compel Israel to end its aggression in Jerusalem and its bombardment of Gaza.”

The Islamist Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups continued to pound civilian areas of Israel with incessant rocket fire today, estimated to have exceeded 200 missiles over the past 24 hours alone.

Israel kept up its air strikes in Hamas-run Gaza, saying it wanted to deter the Islamist group from future confrontation after the current conflict is halted.

The IDF retaliated by carrying out over a dozen air strikes on Gaza after midnight, targeting what it said was a weapons storage unit in the home of a Hamas official, and military infrastructure in the homes of other commanders from the group. Defense officials disclosed that a launcher capable of firing 5 rockets simultaneously was destroyed this morning.

The IDF has done its utmost to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza by issuing repeated warnings – in the form of telephone calls, leaflets and advance ‘roof knocking’ techniques – for residents to evacuate buildings set to be targeted by strikes. The IDF also insists that it only fires on military targets.

At least a third of the estimated 4,200 missiles launched at Israel from Gaza since Islamists began their assault 10 days ago have fallen short, causing damage within the Palestinian enclave of 2 million residents. About 90% of the rockets entering Israeli air space have been intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

The rockets that managed to penetrate Israel’s aerial defense have killed 8 civilians, 3 foreign nationals and 1 IDF soldier. Much of the country’s 9 million citizens of Israel have been terrorized by the relentless attacks and seemingly non-stop blasting of air raid sirens, which send people rushing to reach shelter in a matter of seconds.

Many of the nation’s 80,000 11th and 12th grade students took the mathematics matriculation exam in protected spaces shelters yesterday as incoming rocket alarms sounded in several locations, after having decided to undergo testing despite the barrage. The teenagers were also given an extra half-hour to complete the exam, an allotment that will also apply to 120,000 others who were prevented from participating due to the security situation when they take it at a future date.

Palestinian officials at the Hamas-run health authority say 228 Palestinians have been killed in aerial bombardments.

The already dire situation in the impoverished Hamas-controlled territory has further worsened due to the closure of Israel’s Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings due to rocket attacks on aid convoys for 2 consecutive days this week.

Moreover, the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT ) revealed on 13 May that over 230,000 Gaza residents lost electricity after Hamas shot out power lines, and 250,000 others had their water supply shut off after Hamas disabled the desalination plant in Gaza City. Sewage treatment plants in Rafah were also damaged by the Islamist terror group’s own actions.

In addition, a long-range rocket launched from Gaza caused heavy damage to the Omar Al-Qassam hospital in the Palestinian village Azun east of Qalqilya on 15 May.

“Over the past few months, this hospital has been used to receive and treat COVID-19 patients, as well as to house related medical facilities and store equipment,” said COGAT, stressing that, “This incident serves as additional proof that the terrorist organizations in Gaza place no value on human lives – be they Israeli lives, Gazan lives, or the lives of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.”

Meanwhile, international diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis are stepping up.

An Egyptian security source cited by Reuters said the two sides have agreed in principle to a truce after help from mediators, although necessary details are still being negotiated in secret amid public denials of a deal to prevent it from collapsing.

Hamas political official Moussa Abu Marzouk said he expects “a ceasefire to be reached within a day or two, and the ceasefire will be on the basis of mutual agreement.”

When asked during an interview on Israel’s public Kan public station if a truce would be secured by tomorrow, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen replied, “No. We are definitely seeing very significant international pressure… we will finish the operation when we decide we have attained our goals.”

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera television reported that United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland was meeting Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar.

The United Nations General Assembly is slated to hold a special session on the conflict later today with the participation of several foreign ministers, although it is not expected to take any action. The US mission said it would not support a French call for a resolution in the 15-member UN Security Council, saying it believed such actions would undermine efforts to de-escalate violence.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US and the UN Gilad Erdan stressed on Kan Radio that Jerusalem also wants to end the hostilities, but “for this to happen … we have to feel that Hamas infrastructure has been hit significantly; and that it understands that it won’t be worth it to fire rockets again at Israeli citizens (again) several weeks from now.”

The hostilities are the most serious between Hamas and Israel since their 2014 war. In a new development, the conflict has also ignited street violence in Israeli cities between Jews and Arabs, in which a Jewish man was killed; and stoked violence in the West Bank, where local sources say at least 21 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops or other incidents since 10 May.

There has also been spillover violence to the northern frontier. 4 rockets were launched towards Israel from Lebanon yesterday, in what was the third such incident since the Gaza conflict began. IDF forces responded with artillery fire towards targets in Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s full statement to Foreign Ambassadors

(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Advisor)

“Thank you for your support. It warms our heart to see that. Some of the governments here had actually had the Israeli flag flown on their building during a very difficult moment for us. We appreciate that and we appreciate the expressions of support that came from all of you. I also want to use this opportunity to ask the ambassadors of Thailand and India to extend my personal condolences to the families of their citizens who were killed, murdered by Hamas rockets. Two agricultural workers from Thailand. One Indian caregiver.

This is just one more manifestation of the fact that Hamas indiscriminately targets everyone. They murder everyone, any civilian they can get their hands on. They use civilians. They target civilians while hiding behind civilians using them as human shields. This is the problem that we face.

Because Hamas is embedded deeply in civilian areas, because it uses civilian human shields. Democracies have a choice. They can say there is nothing we can do. We will absorb attacks against our cities. We can do that or we can level the cities.

In World War II, when western cities, specifically London and some British cities, were targeted this way by thousands of rockets, their response was to level cities. I admire Winston Churchill. I think he was one of the greatest leaders in modern history. I don’t criticize him for anything. I think he did the right thing under those circumstances.

But this is not our response to the firing of thousands of rockets on our cities. We do something different. We try to target those who target us with great precision. That is not a surgical operation as it is. Even in a surgical room in a hospital, you don’t have the ability to prevent collateral damage around an infected tissue. Even then you can’t. Certainly in a military operation you cannot.

There is no army in the world that does more than the Israeli army, in the Israeli security services, in Israeli intelligence to prevent collateral damage. To have Israel criticized for that is absurd. Not only is absurd and unjust and untrue, it does enormous damage to democracies that are fighting this kind of evil. It says you cannot protect yourself.

Instead of having the perpetrators who commit double war crimes, who are hiding behind civilians and firing on civilians, not having them criticized but having you criticized is the height of hypocrisy and stupidity. What that does is in fact encourage the terrorists. It gives support, it gives encouragement to the terrorists and that is something that is bad for each one of us.

I’m not shy about saying it openly, I think you should support Israel strongly because this is not merely a question of Israel’s security; it’s a question of our common security and our common interests in the Middle East.”

During the briefing, Prime Minister Netanyahu presented the ambassadors with documentation of IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the location of stockpiles of missiles, rockets, terrorist buildings, command centers and many terrorist infrastructures. Also presented were videos of firing at citizens of the State of Israel and misfiring by the terrorist organizations, which endangers the residents of the Gaza Strip. Israeli ambassadors around the world also participated in the briefing via Zoom.