Crushing Hamas instead of accepting a cease-fire might have turned Gaza into another Fallujah, with Israel paying an exorbitant price in terms of the lives of soldiers as well as risking security on the Syrian front, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in interviews this weekend.
He noted that the United States in 2004 fought against Islamists in the Iraqi city, one-tenth the size of Gaza, killed thousands of Iraqis and destroyed thousands of homes only to hand over control to the Iraqi government, which last year lost control of the city to Al Qaeda.
The Prime Minister went on a media blitz with three television interviews over the weekend after his popularity sank dramatically in the past week. He was the target of barbs from left and right for accepting a cease-fire with Hamas instead of going for the kill and for not fulfilling his promise that a cease-fire would be conditioned on dis-arming Hamas. Instead, the issue of weapons in Gaza was put off for “negotiations” in 30 days while Hamas insists it never will give up its rockets.
He tried repair the political damage by emphasizing that the “big picture” is more important than destroying Hamas, which can always be done later, if need be.
None other than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry provided him with an escape hatch by calling for ”global coalition” to fight radical Islamists who are “perilously close to Israel.”
“The Islamic State is galloping toward us [and] al-Qaeda is on the Golan borders,” said Netanyahu, who explained he did want to “not to invest all my assets in this one arena” of Gaza.
“I am preparing for a reality in the Middle East that is very problematic,” Netanyahu said, but Bloomberg News quoted Ben Gurion University political science Prof. Yoram Meital as saying that ISIS and Al Qaeda “have yet to form large enough armies to “significantly pose an existential threat to Israel.” He added, “There is a tendency to exaggerate the power of these groups for political aims.”
Netanyahu said that beheading Hamas, figuratively speaking, still is an option and that there might be a situation in which Israel has to occupy Gaza
He asserted that while he will not tolerate even a drizzle of rockets, invading Gaza at this time would have come at a possibly intolerable loss of soldiers.
Netanyahu did not state, nor has the IDF commented, that a massive invasion of Gaza was not a real option ever since the military pulled out most of its tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) from the Gaza front almost immediately after the last temporary cease-fire before the current truce was announced last week. The IDF apparently knew it had won as much as it could at the least possible price.
Buried amid the praise for the military’s dealing Hamas a severe blow from the air and from the ground are well-sourced reports that the army was not prepared for the massive and lethal Hamas defense in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza.
Entering all of Gaza to topple Hamas would have meant facing a well-organized terrorist army in every city in the Gaza, despite the elimination of top Hamas commanders by the Israeli Air Force.
However, there is no doubt, as Netanyahu said, that Hamas did not expect the force with which Israel retaliated following rocket attacks on most of Israel.
The Prime Minister also emphasized in the interviews that Hamas agreed to the same Egyptian cease-fire proposal that it originally rejected.
He did not relate to the difficulty that awaits Israel with diplomatic maneuvering by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to use the “peace process” to allow his security forces to patrol Gaza borders.