Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Elihu Ben-Onn says Israeli Defense Forces have reduced the Hamas rocket arsenal by about 50 percent, and he says the military operation will continue until Hamas has no rockets remaining and its tunnel system is eradicated.
“These bloody terrorists had more than 9,000 rockets. We believe we destroyed half of it. That means more than 4,000 rockets. So the mission is not accomplished yet,” said Ben-Onn, who is disgusted at the tactics employed by Hamas to maximize civilian casualties.
“They protect themselves with children and women and hospitals and mosques. They believe that if they hide behind them, [Israel] will not go there,” he said. “They want them to get the bullets first. They don’t fight like soldiers [but] like cowards.”
Ben-Onn added, “We still have to go forward in order to stop all of them. They still have thousands of rockets.”
In addition to the threat posed by relentless rockets fired from Gaza, Israel is also committed to the arduous task of destroying the elaborate system of tunnels that allows Hamas to slip into Israel underground.
“Israel has to move inside and actually go to all basements, all the shelters, all the underground cities Hamas built under the civilians,” said Ben-Onn, who described how the tunnel system works.
“They were dug in the last couple of years. They start in the living room or the kitchen or in the bedroom of the children. They start it from that kitchen down to the ground and then one or two kilometers, all the way to the border,” he said.
Ben-Onn admitted discovering all the tunnels is a painstaking task.
“It’s very complicated,” he said. “You have to go from house to house, from building to building. You need a lot of information, a lot of intelligence. Of course, when you find those terrorists, it’s sad they don’t go out and fight. They prefer to be behind human shelters.”
Several media reports have explained that Hamas regularly fires rockets and stations known military targets in areas of high civilian populations, such as schools, hospitals and even United Nations relief shelters. However, the majority of international reports simply point to the civilian deaths occurring when those sites are attacked by Israel, and those reports lead to growing international cries for a cease-fire.
“Well, we are used to that,” Ben-Onn said. “Unfortunately, for many years, some international media prefer to take the propaganda point of view of the terrorists. I always explain it as simple as it is. If you have a daylight robbery in a bank and terrorists are holding a hostage with a pistol on their head, if you are a police officer you must shoot him before he kills all the hostages.”
The United States government played a key role in two stories connected to the Middle East conflict. On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a halt to all U.S. flights into Tel Aviv. Many European nations and airlines followed suit. The U.S. allowed flights to resume late Wednesday night.
“We were a little bit surprised because British Airways from London didn’t stop the flights to Tel Aviv. I’m very glad they decided to cancel this wrong decision,” said Ben-Onn, explaining that Bengurion Airport is the most secure in the world, and Hamas rockets aren’t even a threat to aircraft.
On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry was caught on a live television microphone saying he needed to head to the Middle East to broker a truce, and he seemed to be mocking the notion that the Israeli military actions were part of a pinpoint operation.
Nonetheless, Ben-Onn believes the Obama administration remains a strong ally of Israel. He’s also touched by the outpouring of support from the American people.
“We would like to thank the United States of America, the people,” he said. “We have thousands of supporters. People are calling my radio station, sending emails, faxes and Facebook (messages). They say, ‘We support the state of Israel. We understand your struggle, your efforts.’”
For those who believe Israel’s response to the rocket attacks from Hamas is not proportionate, Ben-Onn suggests Americans consider how they would react if Washington, D.C., were attacked day after day by rockets from a neighboring country.
Ultimately, he said, Israel must defend itself.
“We have an enemy,” he said. “Our enemy doesn’t recognize our right to exist in this area. The enemy is attacking Israel by missiles and rockets, especially our civilians. They are war criminals, and we have to protect ourselves.”