Thursday, February 27, 2020

Defense minister: Wide-scale military campaign in Gaza inevitable - Ariel Kahana

by Ariel Kahana

Israel should not allow the terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip to drag it into endless rounds of hostilities, says Yamina leader Naftali Bennett. "The only way to change the situation on the ground is by rebooting it as soon as possible," he asserts.

Defense minister: Wide-scale military campaign in Gaza inevitable
Yamina leader Defense Minister Naftali Bennett                                                              File photo: Oren Ben Hakoon
"I'd rather sit in the opposition than join a government led by Benny Gantz. I'd also sooner face a fourth election than sit in his cabinet," Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told Israel Hayom this week.

Bennett, who heads the Yamina faction – an alliance of the national-religious New Right, National Union, and Habayit Hayehudi parties – stressed that his decision stems from the simple fact that "I am a rightist and Blue and White is the left-wing party."

Blue and White itself is a faction comprising the Israel Resilience Party, headed by Gantz, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, and Telem, headed by former IDF chief Moshe Ya'alon.

"At the heart of Blue and White you have Yesh Atid," Bennett explained. "They want to evict tens of thousands of settlers from their homes, and Yair Lapid, who is anti-religious, has said in the past that the [2005] disengagement [from the Gaza Strip] was punishment for the religious-national public. I don't share these opinions and therefore I will not sit [in a government] with them.

"I will join only a Netanyahu government," he exclaimed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has warned several times that Yamina may break from the right-haredi bloc after the March 2 elections despite its campaign promises.

"The 11th commandment says a rightist does not turn on another rightist – Netanyahu taught me that," Bennett said. "It's not pleasant to be on the receiving end of these attacks by Netanyahu but I'm not responsible for his actions – only for my own.

"The [electoral] division should be such that Likud supporters vote for Likud and those who support the ideological right and religious Zionism vote for Yamina. I am not going to target anyone within the right-wing camp. We'll have to keep taking it because a rightist does not turn on another rightist," he said.

Commenting on the recent round of hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip-based Islamic Jihad, Bennett reiterated that he believes a wide-scale military campaign in the coastal enclave is just a matter of time.

An explosion following an Israeli airstrike on Islamic Jihad sites in Gaza City, Monday (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
"The only way to change the situation on the ground is by rebooting it as soon as possible. In this round [of violence] I learned that it's inevitable," he said.

The defense minister noted that he opposes the "flare-up concept," by which Israel and Gaza lag from one round of violence to the next, saying that this time, he ordered the IDF to exact a higher price from the terrorist group and its patrons outside Gaza.

"We have raised the bar and it the Gaza vicinity communities can't have peace and quiet, neither will Damascus," he explained, referring to a strike on Iranian assets in the Syrian capital.

Iran is the Islamic Jihad's main sponsor. Its forces are deployed in Syria as part of Tehran's efforts to tighten its grip on the Middle East via the assistance it lends President Bashar Assad's regime.

Touching on the issue of Netanyahu's legal troubles, Bennett said he believes it is not the High Court of Justice's place to prevent Likud's chairman from forming a government if he is again elected prime minister.

Netanyahu is facing corruption charges in three different cases. His trial is set to begin on March 17.

"It would be irresponsible, devastating even, if they [High Court justices] disqualify him. Doing that means the court essentially tells the public, 'You don't matter.' It would be devastating in terms of public confidence in the judiciary. They shouldn't do it and I hope they don't," he concluded.

Ariel Kahana


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