Speaking at a meeting of residents in Kibbutz Alumim, an Israeli community located near the nominal border fence, Bennett appeared to advocate the bombing of civilians and targeted assassinations when he said, “Bombing an empty building and then feeling good, as if this is what is deterring Hamas, is nonsense, it does not work.” He added that he expects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the Israeli army an order to cut Hamas capabilities.
Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s Defence Minister, yesterday cut short his two-day trip to the US to deal with the situation in Gaza. He vowed to “manage [Israel’s] operations up close.”
Bennett also called reports of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire “embarrassing”, saying that he would do all he could to stop it from happening. “There is no country in the world that would not exact a price for rockets fired at its citizens and there is no country in the world where the blood of its citizens is as disregarded as [in the situation] we have seen in recent days,” he insisted.
Meanwhile, Bennett’s long-time ally Ayelet Shaked also used the ongoing crisis in Gaza as an opportunity to air her views. “Hamas is simply not afraid of us,” she told right-wing Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva. “The very fact that there are missiles aimed at the entire State of Israel without hindrance is something we must not accept.”
Shaked praised Bennett’s hawkish approach. “Minister Naftali Bennett has had a very consistent position for years that we need to stop being afraid and stop containing […] but rather dare and win. We can deter Hamas. It is only a matter of making the decision to do so.”
Israel’s Justice Minister also criticised Netanyahu’s approach to the enclave, which many on the right wing consider weak. “We [she and Netanyahu] disagree on the general approach. We must not contain and pay Hamas protection money. They have to be afraid of us. They have to be deterred and we should not allow this rampage to happen.”
This criticism of Netanyahu’s approach to the Gaza Strip has been a favourite topic of right-wing politicians for some time. In November, the same disagreement led then Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman to resign his portfolio, leaving Netanyahu to take over the reins himself.
Speaking at the time after a botched operation by Israel left seven Palestinians and one Israeli dead and resulted in a series of overnight strikes on Gaza, Lieberman said: “What happened yesterday in terms of the ceasefire […] is submission to terror. What we are in effect doing is buying short term quiet [in Gaza] and the price will be difficult for [Israel’s] security in the long term.”
This criticism has reached fever pitch as Israel’s General Election draws closer. Commentators have speculated that the threat of another offensive against Palestinian civilians in Gaza could actually be of benefit to Netanyahu’s re-election bid on 9 April, giving him an opportunity to prove that he can be tough on Hamas, which is the de facto government in the Strip, having won the last election in 2006.
The Times of Israel pointed out yesterday that, weeks before Israel’s 2009 and 2013 elections, the government launched its 2008 and 2012 military offensives against Gaza after being spurred on by “appeals for a strong retaliation” to alleged rocket fire. If the same happens again, with the election two weeks from today, Israel could face a “khaki election” in which the country goes to the polls during wartime.