Report: Netanyahu Sought Major Gaza Campaign, Mandelblit Prevented

Flame and smoke are seen during an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip, last Tuesday. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu planned to embark on a major military campaign last week, after Gaza terrorists fired rockets at Ashdod and Ashkelon – but was impeded by State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit, who demanded that Netanyahu assemble his cabinet to discuss the action before any resources were committed. A report in Ha’aretz Monday said that the campaign was to have begun last Tuesday night – after the speech Netanyahu gave in Ashdod in which he was forced to take cover when the Red Alert siren sounded.

Netanyahu proposed the campaign at a dramatic meeting with top security brass, including IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman, Mossad director Yossi Cohen, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat, IDF Military Intelligence head Tamir Heyman, and Netanyahu’s chief IDF military attaché, Avi Bluth.

The meeting came after Netanyahu was forced from the stage as he was making a campaign speech in Ashkelon when the sirens sounded in Ashkelon, Ashdod, and several other southern communities. The sirens sent the crowd that had come to hear Netanyahu scurrying for cover as the Prime Minister was hustled off by security personnel. After the all-clear signal was given, Netanyahu returned to the podium, saying that the attack was a clear attempt to interfere with the elections. “If Hamas is firing at us in the middle of a Likud event, it would seem that they don’t want us in power,” the Prime Minister said.

Altogether, Gaza terrorists fired five rockets at the area. No injury or damage was reported. The IDF responded overnight Tuesday with attacks on 15 Hamas terror targets. Yisrael Hayom reported Wednesday that Hamas had sent messages to Israel via Egyptian interlocutors that it was not responsible for the rocket fire. The IDF said that it saw Hamas as responsible for all terror incidents that emanate from Gaza.

Netanyahu had advocated a far stronger response, one that would have entailed a major Israeli attack on Hamas power centers in Gaza, the report said – but the IDF’s relatively mild response was due to hesitation by top security officials regarding the wisdom of such an attack. However, the report said, the main issue that held back the attack was Mandelblit’s position, who demanded that the Cabinet be consulted first.

Mandelbit – who gave his opinion over the phone, as he was not present at the meeting – based his reservation on a Basic Law that was passed last year, that no “major” military actions that could lead to war be taken unless the Cabinet discussed it first. The law was passed based on recommendations by a panel Netanyahu had appointed in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war.

Netanyahu said several times last week that Israel would have “no choice” but to begin a major campaign against Hamas. Netanyahu told Reshet Bet Friday that his approach to the Gaza issue was one of “rational thought and not panic. I will not go out to war except as a last resort. I am not prepared to endanger soldiers and civilians in order to get applause.”

But Israel is running out of patience, and out of methods to avoid that conflict, Netanyahu said. “We may have no choice but to go to war. Hamas is not preventing the attacks against us.”

Netanyahu reiterated those comments Friday upon his return from Russia, saying that a major military campaign against Hamas could occur “at any time” – even before Tuesday’s elections.