Naftali Bennett: Tear Gaza in two
Habayit Hayehudi chairman harshly criticizes government, advocates ground invasion into Gaza
Amid growing signs of a ceasefire, Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett harshly criticized the government on Wednesday. "They've lost all common sense," he said on Ynet's TV studio.
"We can postpone the elections if that's what it takes to protect the people of the south," Bennett said. He added that a "country that cannot protect its residents is degrading itself in the eyes of the world. A country that protects its residents is respected.
"I think there is weakness of spirit a loss of fighting spirit, Jewish spirit, Zionist spirit on the part of the government."
Asked what he would do in Benjamin Netanyahu's place he said, "I would seize an open strip of land, create a buffer zone between Egypt and Gaza and stay there to prevent launchers from entering. If we're not going for a decisive blow, I'm against deploying even one soldier."
The Habayit Hayehudi chairman stated that Israel faces an historic opportunity. "The people, the army, the reservists are all saying 'Netanyahu, give us the order.' We're right behind you.'"
IDF Spokesman Yoav Mordechai told Ynet that Hamas is stressed. "The organization has been very badly hit. All of its leaders are in a state of crisis.
"There are many terrorist groups in Gaza and Hamas has reached a crossroads and needs to make a decision." Mordechai said that if Hamas fails to impose its authority, the Gaza Strip may fall to pieces.
He said that 160 Palestinians were killed, including 30 in the past 24 hours. The Palestinians however reported that 140 were killed in Gaza.
Hamas emerges with major gains from hits bloodiest battle with Israel in 4 years
Published November 22, 2012
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Hamas has emerged from battle with the triumphal sense of a hard-won game change: By stopping its offensive when it did, Israel's hard-line government seems to have grudgingly accepted that the Islamic militant group cannot soon be dislodged from power in Gaza.
Hamas dared rocket the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, then stared down threats of a ground invasion to wipe out the group — emerging with its rule intact, world figures rushing to the region to put out the fire and key Muslim countries openly on its side. In the rush of diplomacy, Hamas also succeeded in overshadowing its main Western-backed Palestinian rival.
Still unclear is whether the Egyptian-brokered truce can deliver the promised end to Gaza's stifling blockade.
On Thursday, the first full day of calm after eight days of fighting, the contrast in mood couldn't be sharper.
Gazans celebrated the cease-fire with fireworks, Hamas militants flaunted their weapons in the streets and a Hamas political leader, Khalil al-Haya, taunted Israel at a victory rally, saying "you can't invade us."
Israel's mood was subdued, with some glad a costly ground invasion had been averted, but others disappointed by the inconclusive end of the offensive. Unlike in previous military campaigns against Hamas, Israel had set the bar low from the start, saying it only wanted to end to Gaza rocket fire, not topple the Islamists in charge of the Palestinian territory since they seized it from their rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.
The offensive had started seemingly unexpectedly, with the assassination of the Hamas military chief with a missile strike on his moving car on Nov. 14.
Over eight days, Israel's military struck some 1,500 Hamas-linked targets in Gaza and amassed troops on the border, while Israel's leaders threatened a bruising Gaza invasion, just like the one Israel staged four years earlier.
But Israel did not send in troops, even after Hamas barraged the Jewish state with hundreds of rockets, including several falling close to the heartland cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — something many had believed would surely trigger an invasion.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, pushing back Thursday against those clamoring for a decisive blow against Hamas, said he was not willing to embark on a military adventure and risk antagonizing the international community.
"Hamas won't be toppled unless Israel retakes Gaza, but I'm not sure that would be wise," Barak, one of Israel's most experienced military strategists, acknowledged on Israel Army Radio.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel could always reconsider if Hamas breaks the cease-fire, but that seemed unlikely considering warnings from the U.S. and the West of the high cost of sending ground troops.
Israel underestimated Hamas and "fell into a trap," claimed a leading Hamas hard-liner in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar.
Other Hamas leaders bragged that their improved arsenal, including longer-range rockets and anti-tank missiles smuggled from Iran via tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, helped deter Israel's military.
But a bigger factor may have been the change of leadership in Egypt.
Israel-Hamas talks leave future of Gaza blockade cloudy
Gaza residents and smugglers are left to ponder vague promises to discuss easing restrictions on the movement of goods and people at a later date.
Members of the Attar family, displaced during the Hamas-Israel conflict, return to the remains of their home in the northern Gaza Strip. (Marco Longari / AFP/Getty Images / November 22, 2012)
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Seated on a muddy hill, Sulieman Masri glumly scanned the giant crater that was once a smuggling tunnel used to support his family.
After the Israeli airstrikes of the last week, Thursday morning was the first safe time to venture out. He discovered his tunnel was among 140 Israel destroyed. Now it's now a massive sand pit coated with gray explosives residue. It would take two months to rebuild at the cost of $20,000.
"But I've heard that they are going to open the borders, which could put the tunnels out of business," he said. "Now I don't know what to do."
Masri isn't the only one wondering what will happen next with Israel's 5-year-old blockade of the Gaza Strip's border and coastline.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the coastal strip, persuaded Gazans to support its confrontation with Israel in part by vowing repeatedly that it would keep fighting until the controversial blockade was lifted.
So many were surprised Wednesday night when the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire included only vague promises to discuss easing restrictions on goods and people at a later date.
A Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the group received private assurances from Egypt that the Rafah crossing to the Sinai Peninsula, which currently permits limited movement of people, will be expanded to include goods, and that Israel agreed not to object.
Israelis, who are worried that opening the borders will allow Hamas to rearm itself, don't want to talk about the subject until after it's clear that the cease-fire is holding.
Cease-Fire Announced in Israel-Gaza Conflict
November 21, 2012
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr announced a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas during a Nov. 21 news conference in Cairo. The cease-fire is expected to begin at 9 p.m. local time. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told U.S. President Barack Obama that he is willing to give the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire a chance.
This cessation of violence is likely highly tenuous. Israel will only agree to a truce if it has guarantees from Egypt -- overseen by the United States -- that the Palestinian arsenal of Fajr-5 long-range rockets will be neutralized and that measures will be taken to prevent future weapons transfers to Gaza. It remains to be seen what details surface on this core Israeli demand, especially given its incompatability with Hamas' demand for the blockade on Gaza to be lifted.
There is also the outstanding issue of Iran, which Israel has pointed to as the center of gravity in the conflict. The Fajr-5 rockets are Iranian-made, and Iran facilitated the movement of those weapons into Gaza. Iran may have an interest in prolonging the conflict and could try to use militant levers in Gaza to derail the truce. Israel must also contend with the broader dilemma of future Iranian attempts to smuggle advanced weaponry into Gaza. This is where Egyptian cooperation with Israel on border security becomes crucial.
If the cease-fire holds, Hamas is within reach of a major symbolic victory. It will have avoided devastation of the group in Gaza and can claim a capability to strike the Israeli heartland.
We must watch now if Hamas honors the cease-fire and if the organization will have the authority to enforce the cease-fire among other groups, namely the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Until Israel has a guarantee on the Fajr-5s and a cessation of rocket fire, it is unlikely to forgo the option of a military ground operation.
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Ahmadinejad: Israel has 'childish' desire to attack Iran, Tehran can defend itself
Iranian president says Israel knows Iran won't 'attack anybody'; world powers agree to seek renewed talks with Iran as soon as possible.
Israel has a "childish" desire to attack Iran and Tehran is capable of defending itself, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday.
"They wish to hurt the Iranian nation. They are waiting for the chance. They know that Iran does not attack anybody and they know that Iran knows how to defend itself," he told a news conference in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
"We don't accept the hegemony of Israel. They wish to attack Iran but it is like a childish desire," the Iranian president said.
He was speaking after attending a summit of developing nations.
Six world powers agreed on Wednesday to seek renewed talks with Iran as soon as possible, reflecting a heightened sense of urgency to resolve a long rift over Tehran's disputed nuclear activity and avert the threat of war.
Their call coincided with growing evidence of Iran expanding nuclear capacity in an underground bunker virtually impervious to attack and follows the Nov. 6 re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama, which has cleared the way for new contacts.
Senior diplomats from the six countries - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - met in Brussels on Wednesday to consider new negotiating tactics despite abiding scepticism that a deal with Tehran can be reached.
Analysts warn that a window of opportunity for a negotiated solution is narrowing because of growing alarm over Tehran's nuclear course in Israel, the Middle East's only nuclear power which has threatened to bomb the atomic sites of its arch-enemy.