Retired Israeli Brigadier Gen. Elihu Ben-Onn says Hamas kidnapped and murdered three teenagers in an attempt to free “bloody terrorists” held in Israeli jails, and promises his country’s response will continue until Hamas decides to stop firing rockets into Israel or they are stopped by force.
Ben-Onn also says there is no credibility left among the Palestinians to restart any peace process and suggests it’s time for the United States to start punishing terrorism by reducing foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority.
The international community is imploring Israel to show restraint, but Ben-Onn says that’s impossible as long as Hamas keeps attacking southern Israel.
“In the last 48 hours, Israel suffered more than 200 rockets that were launched towards Israeli communities and settlements inside the state of Israel,” said Ben-Onn, noting that over 1,000 reservists have been called up by the government.
“We are talking now about ground forces that might go again inside Gaza in order to stop those rockets from falling on Israeli cities, communities and villages,” he said.
He says this latest conflict will end when the rockets stop flying into Israel – no matter what it takes to make that happen.
“The situation is very tense now, because if Hamas will not stop shelling Israeli villages and cities, I believe ground forces will have to go in to stop them,” said Ben-Onn.
Casualties appear to be very light, although firm numbers are difficult to find. Ben-Onn says if lives have been spared, the Israeli missile defense known as “Iron Dome” deserves much of the credit.
“Thank goodness we have Iron Dome. This is a wonderful system that can stop the rockets on the way. In the last 48 hours, they intercepted more than 21. Thank goodness they didn’t reach the civilian targets in Israel,” he said.
Rockets are not the only sign of ongoing terrorist efforts to attack and destabilize Israel.
“Last night, another tunnel that was [dug] from the Gaza strip to Israel was found and seven Hamas terrorists were killed inside while they tried to continue digging toward Israel and again tried to kidnap Israelis along the border,” said Ben-Onn.
For Israelis, that is the exact motive believed to be at work in the recent killing of three Israeli teenagers. They were found murdered after going missing in Gaza three weeks earlier. Ben-Onn says the search for the boys brought a nation together, even though many feared the worst.
“For 18 days, all Israelis prayed that we would find them, but it was quite clear to all of us that the reason they were kidnapped is in order to try to release those bloody terrorists from Israeli prisons,” said Ben-Onn, who says radical Islamists are constantly looking to create conditions for a prisoner exchange, citing the 2011 release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for Israeli POW Gilad Shalit.
Reports from Israel suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking heat from his political right. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman believes Netanyahu is being too soft and suggested to reporters that he and his party could no longer remain part of the ruling coaltion. Ben-Onn says Lieberman is well known for his grand pronouncements but is highly unlikely to leave the government and force new elections. He suspects the more likely scenario is Lieberman trying to establish himself as the next prime minister whenever Netanyahu decides to step down.
All of this comes on the heels of Hamas being welcome back into the Palestinian Authority by Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the Fatah movement. Ben-Onn says that gesture alone speaks volumes.
“If Hamas is the partner of Fatah, what kind of future are we looking at with the Palestinians? The fact they have a joint government together is a bad sign for a peace agreement. That’s the reason why most Israelis have the feeling that the leader of the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, is too weak and he cannot deliver the goods. And behind our back, he’s signing an agreement with Hamas,” said Ben-Onn.
A growing number of American political figures and activists insist that Hamas being welcomed back into the Palestinian Authority without renouncing terrorism or acknowledging Israel’s right to exist should mean an end to any U.S. foreign aid to the Palestinians. Ben-Onn largely agrees.
“Maybe (the U.S.) should give a clear threat that if Hamas will not change their policy and Fatah will still keep them in the coalition, the United States should really consider the possibility to downsize, to cut part of the financial aid in order to tell them that’s not the direction towards peace,” said Ben-Onn.
“The direction is to come to the negotiation table, speak face-to-face to each other. Find the solution at the negotiation table not on the battlefield, not relying on those bloody terrorists from Hamas,” he said. “The United States should make it very clear that if they don’t talk and find solutions, they should suffer.”