Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that continued rocket fire from Gaza is making another war against militants in the coastal strip inevitable, his latest headline-grabbing announcement just days before Israel heads to parliamentary elections.
Netanyahu divulged that advanced plans were in place to strike Gaza and said he would decide the optimal timing of the offensive, given the Gaza Hamas rulers’ unwillingness or inability to stop the daily barrages.
The Israeli leader has been criticized for failing to respond harshly to the rockets, which have been frequently sending residents of southern Israel scurrying for cover. Netanyahu himself was whisked away by bodyguards from a campaign event on Tuesday when Palestinian militants fired rockets toward the area where he was.
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and Hamas militants overtook the territory by force two years later. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and engaged in several other rounds of violence over the past decade.
“I do not wage war unless it is a last resort and I don’t risk the lives of our soldiers and citizens just to get applause,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet Radio. “We will probably have no choice but to set out on a big campaign, a war against the terror forces in Gaza.”
“I won’t start it one minute before we are ready, and we are preparing for a ‘different war’,” he added, shortly before flying to Russia for a lightning meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
It was Netanyahu’s first major interview to a mainstream media outlet in a frenetic campaign in which he has been dictating the agenda with a dizzying array of maneuvers. Just this week, he has alleged fraud in Arab voting areas and has pushed for legislation to place cameras in polling stations on election day.
He also claimed to have located a previously unknown Iranian nuclear weapons facility and vowed to annex the heart of the West Bank if he wins re-election.
His pledge to extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley sparked international condemnation. A spokesman for the UN secretary-general said that if it were carried through it would be a “serious violation of international law.”
The UN statement comes after Saudi Arabia, a regional power that has grown closer to Israel in recent years, condemned the move, along with several others who warned it could inflame the Middle East and eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a separate state.
Netanyahu said it was important to act now as President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his Mideast peace plan after the elections next Tuesday in Israel. The move was widely viewed in Israel as Netanyahu’s latest stunt to draw in right-wing voters in a hard-fought campaign.