Defense Minister Naftali Bennett
Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

There is a 95% chance that Israel will launch a large-scale military campaign to remove terrorist threats from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in the near future, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“I have come to the conclusion that there is a 95% chance it is inevitable that we will have to launch a large campaign to restart Gaza,” he said less than a day after nearly 100 rockets were fired into the South in the latest round of violence between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

“We are ready, and the plans have been formulated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the military,” Bennett said. “We will give one very last chance to the terrorists to maintain quiet. But I don’t believe them. They are liars, murderers, and we are going to have to act. It’s always a last resort to go to war. But this time it will be on our terms with our timing and with a very clear vision of the day after.”

Speaking to the Post in his office on the 14th floor of the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Bennett said as defense minister he is responsible for providing the people of the South “what they haven’t had for 20 years – sustainable peace and quiet.”

The most serious escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza terrorist groups since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014 took place last year. More than 1,500 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israel in 2019 from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the majority sent during three rounds of conflict with the blockaded coastal enclave.

“If Israelis in the South can’t sleep at night, terrorists in Damascus won’t sleep,” Bennett said, referring to airstrikes the IAF carried out Sunday night against PIJ targets, which he said killed eight terrorists near the Syrian capital city. “I want to give hope to the people of the South, to bring them quiet,” he said.

While Bennett did not provide a time line for when the campaign would begin, he hinted that he wanted Hamas to have a “painful spring.”

Addressing concerns that the IDF would have to wage a campaign on two fronts, in Gaza and Syria, simultaneously, Bennett said the IDF has experience fighting in two areas at the same time.

“The IDF knows how to act on two fronts at the same time,” he said. “But of course, strategically, you would prefer to deal with one front before the other. But we are prepared for it. And that’s one reason why we will choose the time.”

Bennett, who is marking 100 days as defense minister, told the Post the coming campaign would be “totally different” than past military campaigns, and once Gaza has been “reset,” there would be years of quiet.

When asked what would be so different from past military campaigns in the Gaza Strip, Bennett gave a cryptic answer.

It is not just the military operation that “will be completely different” from past campaigns, but the perspective of what Gaza will look like “the day after” will also be “completely different” than in the past, he said.

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