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Gaza war 'question of when, not if', Israel threatens

Israel strikes Gaza City during an escalation of the conflict in May [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 September, 2019

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Israel's economy minister has echoed ongoing threats that a large-scale Israeli military operation is imminent.
Israel's economy minister said on Thursday a military operation on the Gaza Strip is a certainty in the near future.

"An operation in Gaza is not a question of if, but when," Eli Cohen to Army Radio on Thursday.

An Israeli security official also said that the military is preparing for a war in Gaza "at any moment", adding that the likelihood of a conflict has increased "significantly" since Tuesday’s general election, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The news comes on the back of a report by Maariv that claims Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu was inches away from launching a war against Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, however top army officials refused to carry out the premier's orders.

Forced to leave an election rally early on 10 September because of rocket warning sirens, Netanyahu called his security cabinet and demanded their consent to authorise strikes on the Gaza Strip which would have most likely resulted in retaliatory strikes by Hamas.

Netanyahu was told by the Israeli military that "such actions mean going to war, and going to war requires the approval of the security cabinet", according to Haaretz.

However Netanyahu excluded key security officials and the army's chief of staff and the head of Shin Bet, the national security service.

Netanyahu then left for a state visit to Russia, meanwhile Israel's attorney general was told of the strikes, and ruled that verbal consent from ministers was not sufficient to authorise the operation.

Instead, Netanyahu was ordered to gather his security cabinet along with important security officials who would present a bigger picture of the implications of the operation.

National Security Advisor then met with the head of the Central Elections Committee to discuss the possibility of postponing the vote in case of war.

However, with only a few days to go before the election, Netanyahu made a u-turn on his decision and held off on large-scale military action.

A senior army official told Hebrew-language Maariv that Netanyahu "lost all restraint". 

"He is driving over the cliff in the car that we all must sit in," added another army official on condition of anonymity.

The long-serving prime minister already made public his intention to lead an offensive on Gaza before the election, warning on return of his Russia visit that war could happen "at any moment".

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Since March 2018, regular protests and clashes have erupted along the border of the blockaded coastal enclave.

At least 305 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since then, the majority during demonstrations and clashes.

Seven Israelis have also been killed in Gaza-related violence over the same period.

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