Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that he is preparing for a military solution to the violence on the country’s southern border.
“If the reality of civil distress in Gaza is diminished, that is desirable, but that is not certain to happen, and so we are preparing militarily,” Netanyahu said in the cabinet meeting. “That is not an empty statement.”
The prime minister’s remarks come after the Defense Ministry ordered IDF troops to send reinforcements to the region on Thursday in preparation for a possible escalation.
Israel has been threatened by the weekly Hamas-led March of Return protests which began in March, bringing tens of thousands of Gazans to the border. Though several media reports have described the protests as peaceful, protesters hurl projectiles, firebombs, and hand grenades at IDF troops stationed along the security fence separating Gaza from Israel. There have been many attempts, some successful, to infiltrate the border and to place explosive devices on the fence. In July, a Hamas sniper armed with a specialized rifle killed one IDF soldier and wounded another. The violence has been intensifying in recent weeks.
At least 193 Palestinians, including at least 50 Hamas members, have been killed since the riots began.
In a tactic that has proven successful, Hamas operatives have sent thousands of incendiary balloons and kites over the border, burning between 7,000-9,000 acres of farmland and nature preserves in southern Israel.
In July, Hamas fired close to 200 rockets and projectiles at Israeli cities, leading the IDF to strike 40 Hamas military targets in Gaza. After the hostilities, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett confronted Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot and demanded that the IDF take more active measures to protect Israelis from the ongoing attacks by aerial incendiary devices.
Attempts by Egypt to mediate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas were recently discontinued. The conflict between Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas have exacerbated the tension in the region. Last week, Abbas threatened to cut off all funding to Gaza if Hamas does not hand over complete control of Gaza.The PA gives approximately $93 million each month to Gaza.
Israeli security officials told Hadashot news that a financial crisis could drive Hamas to initiate a conflict with Israel. They also warned that such a conflict could expand into Judea and Samaria.
Israeli Kan broadcasting reported that Abbas spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday. Al-Sisi reportedly warned Abbas that additional measures against Gaza would endanger the Egyptian security, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula. Egyptian forces are already contending against ISIS operatives in the area and would not welcome an increase in tensions along the border.