If you ask Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, the goal of Operation Protective Edge is simple,clear and difficult to obtain: The complete demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem, Steinitz noted that since July 1 Hamas has fired more than 2500 rockets at Israel, and many more mortars. He also noted that Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen personally guaranteed more than 20 years ago that the nascent Palestinian Authority would be a demilitarised zone.
Steinitz said the problem of Gaza is not only one of shooting rockets. Rather, the problem stems from the fact that there are weapons in Gaza at all, a fact that Steinitz says ignores fundamental sections of the Oslo agreement, principle of Oslo.
“The core problem in this region is weapons in Gaza. On the White House lawn, the PLO – that means Yasser Arafat AND Abu Mazen – agreed that Palestinian Authority would be totally demilitarised, forever (MHS: the Interim Agreement made provisions for the PA to maintain a “lightly armed police force”. The agreed upon numbers of police officers and weapons were exceeded before the first anniversary of the Palestinian Authority in July 1995).
“Instead, thousands of rockets, missiles, anti-tank weapons been smuggled in and produced locally,” Steinitz said.
The minister stressed that solving the rocket issue would alleviate suffering on both sides of the Gaza border. He also noted that Israel accepted and implemented the Egyptian ceasefire agreement FOUR TIMES, and stuck to it even while Hamas violated it.
“You want to resolve this problem? Demilitarise Gaza. That should be the core of any ceasefire and deal. Gaza must be demilitarised, as it was meant to be.”
Addressing the deaths of civilians in Gaza, Steinitz said the first duty of every government is to protect its own civilian lives, and he committed to protecting Israeli civilians regardless of international reaction. He stressed that Israel has done, and will continue to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, but ultimately he noted that “the right to self-defence does not disappear just because terrorists are shooting from behind civilian targets.”
To illustrate his point that the source of tension with Gaza is the presence of offensive weaponry there, Steinitz compared Gaza to the Arab-majority city of Nablus, in northern Samaria.
“There are no rocket storehouses in Nablus, no mortar attacks from Nablus into Israel. And guess what? There is no war there, either. We have no need to fight back, and that situation benefits both peoples. Generally speaking, Judea and Samaria has been demilitarised, while Gaza has not.
“Furthermore, if we accept a militarised Gaza at the end of the day, then why shouldn’t terror groups in Hebron and Nablus have open access to arms,” he asked.
What do you think of US diplomacy over the past month?
The United States is our best friend and ally – that means the people, the Congress and the administration. Our close dialogue on all issues continues, and we share the same goals for Iran, Gaza, etc. I’ll leave it to Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss this particular issue, other than to say that we share a common goal: To eliminate terrorism, to bring peace and security to Israel and her neighborhors.
Asked how he envisioned the disarming of Hamas and about Israel’s exit strategy, Steinitz balked, saying only that the removal of offensive weapons from Gaza is a “problem.” But the minister also said he’s got hope that that goal could be accomplished, even as he acknowledged that it sounds like an ambitions goal.
“There are many skeptics around, but I’m optimistic. Look at Syria: You wouldn’t have guessed a year ago that (Syrian dictator) Bashar al-Assad would have voluntarily given up his chemical weapons. But he did, largely thanks to United States-Russian cooperation. So there are some positives to look at, too.