WASHINGTON – Israel is seeking to stop Hamas rocket strikes from Gaza and to obtain a cease-fire and will do “whatever it takes” to achieve these objectives, said Reuven Azar, head of mission at the Israel embassy on Wednesday.
Azar spoke at a luncheon sponsored by the Endowment for Middle East Truth in the U.S. Capitol Building, outlining Israel’s current defense against Hamas’ missile attacks and said the nation’s goal is to obtain a cease-fire.
Hundreds of rockets from Gaza have hit all over Israel over the last several days, and Israel said this week it had embarked upon a military campaign called “Operation Protective Edge” to stop the invading missiles.
Since the beginning of the operation, more than 400 rockets have been fired at Israel, including at central cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the Israeli Defense Forces have responded by targeting nearly 600 terrorist locations.
According to the Endowment “this year, terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 650 rockets at Israel, endangering more than 3.5 million people – approximately 40 percent of Israel’s population.”
Azar said Israel has a “very specific aim in response to Hamas: security for our citizens and to get a cease-fire.”
With nearly 40,000 Israeli troops newly called up because of the conflict, some observers worry there could be a reoccupation the Gaza strip.
No, Azar said.
“We’re not in the business of going back to police the Gaza Strip. We want the Palestinians to govern themselves in a responsible way.”
That said, Azar would not rule out or confirm the possibility of a ground invasion in the coming days – even as discussions continue for a cease-fire, which likely would be designated temporary to start out.
“What we are targeting is the infrastructure of Hamas,” he said. Among these targets he said are rocket launch sites, storage facilities and tunnels used by Hamas.
“While Israel is basically developing systems in order to protect its citizens, Hamas is using the population to defend the rockets,” he said.
He said the rockets are supplied primarily by Iran and are stored in Sudan, then smuggled through various routes including through Egypt.
Further, he said, these strategic launch sites in Gaza use human shields such as schools to pressure Israel to not attack. However, Israeli forces are taking precautions such as warning shots, text messages and phone calls to warn Palestinians when they take aim at these sites.
Addressing claims of disproportionate force being used by Israel, Azar said, “The proportionality would be a situation in which Israel sends a rocket into the Gaza strip each time Hamas fires an indiscriminate rocket against Israel. But Israel, of course, is not doing that.”
Thanking the U.S. for its support in its development, Azar recognized the Iron Dome system – a short-range missile interceptor – as “a remarkable system.”
As result of its development, Israel has only faced one fatality from the scores of missiles which have been fired on it, while the death toll in Gaza is now over 200 Palestinians.
On Wednesday Israel agreed to a deal brokered by Egypt, but Hamas militants had not yet agreed.
With a nod to the U.S. backing of Israel, he said, “You can rest assured the state of Israel is going to do whatever it takes to defend our people and fortunately we are having the full support of the people of the United States, the administration and Congress.”