Stressing that Tel Aviv has “no intention of starting a new war,” Israel’s defense minister has vowed to seek the total destruction of Hamas if the militant group – which refuses to recognize the Jewish state – attempts to “impose” a conflict on Israel.
“As minister of defense, I would like to clarify that we have no intention of starting a new war against our neighbors in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, Lebanon, or Syria,” Avigdor Lieberman told Al-Quds daily.
However, he warned the Palestinian Sunni fundamentalist organization Hamas that if a conflict does erupt, Israel will be forced to protect itself.
“But in Gaza, like the Iranians, they intend to eliminate the state of Israel…if they impose the next war on Israel, it will be their last. I would like to emphasize again: It will be their last confrontation because we will completely destroy them.”
The last time Israel fought Hamas was in the seven-week Operation Protective Edge, in which 2,101 people died in the Gaza Strip. According to UN figures, at least 1,460 of those killed in Israeli air raids and ground operations were civilians. Israel lost 64 soldiers in the operation, in addition to seven civilians killed in Israel by rocket attacks.
Lieberman promised to lift the blockade on Gaza and help rebuild destroyed infrastructure if Hamas ceases its military activities against Israel.
“If Hamas stops digging tunnels, rearming and firing rockets, we will lift the blockade and build the port and airport by ourselves,” he said.
In response to the defense minister’s statements, Hamas leader Fathi Hammad said the movement is “in no way afraid and this is a powerful message from Gaza to Lieberman,” AP reported.
Despite the relative calm between Hamas and Israel, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades – Hamas’ military wing which has alleged ties to Iran – continues to carry out regular rocket attacks against southern Israel. While most of the projectiles fall in deserted areas, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continues to retaliate against the attacks, striking Hamas targets in Gaza air raids.
Gaza and the West Bank, which are divided by the Israeli state, comprise of territories claimed by the Palestinians as the State of Palestine. While both territories fall under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, Gaza, unlike the West Bank, has been ruled by Hamas since June 2007, after the group came to power in free elections a year earlier.
While Hamas hinders negotiations of a two-state solution by refusing to recognize Israel, the Palestinian Authority and its Fatah party are pushing for international recognition of the state of Palestine along the 1967 lines.
In his Monday interview, Lieberman said that a two-state solution to the conflict is possible based on land swaps – included in proposals earlier voiced as part of the solution to resolve the decades-old conflict. The defense minister also said he is critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
But when asked whether he is ready to negotiate with Hamas, Lieberman responded that there is nothing to discuss.
“I cannot speak with someone who declares every day that he hates me and threatens to destroy the state of Israel and drive us into the sea,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian foreign ministry accused Lieberman of spreading lies in order to continue Israeli occupation and settlements.
“Lieberman declares himself to be in favor of a two-state solution while taking pride in being a settler and legitimizing the continued building of settlements and the Judaization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” the ministry said in a statement, as quoted by Haaretz.
The ministry also accused Lieberman of “trying to explain away his carrot-and-stick policy with a web of lies that won’t be believed by the Palestinian people.”