Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to strike the already-besieged Gaza Strip regardless of the country's upcoming general election.
Speaking yesterday as he embarked on a two-day visit to Ukraine, Netanyahu said: "I heard comments that I am refraining from a large campaign [in Gaza] because of the elections. This is not correct. Everyone who knows me knows that my considerations are matter-of fact and real, that I act [in] full cooperation with the security forces, with assertiveness and responsibility."
"If it is required, we will embark on a large campaign […] with elections or without elections," Netanyahu stressed.
This comes after Israel this weekend killed three Palestinians near the Gaza fence, firing at them with an Israeli army helicopter and tank. There were also reports of an Israeli attack on an observation post used by Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Fazi Barhoum said on Saturday that "the Israeli strike is a message of escalation and aggression against the Gaza Strip", claiming the strike is an attempt to divert attention from the occupied West Bank, where an Israeli settler was killed last week. "Resistance forces in Gaza will not let the Strip become an Israeli target for settling accounts," Barhoum added.
After Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition in the wake of April's general election, he pushed for the Knesset to dissolve itself and call a do-over election for 17 September. However, in the face of poor polling figures and widespread Israeli apathy to the country's second election in a year, Netanyahu has sought to cancel the fresh election.
When the Knesset legal adviser ruled that the election could only be cancelled in extreme circumstances such as war, commentators speculated that Netanyahu's government could start a war in Gaza to avoid electoral defeat. Netanyahu's comments yesterday will be seen as the latest evidence of this strategy.
Israeli opposition figures have also goaded Netanyahu to attack Gaza, with head of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) party this weekend labelling his policy on the Strip "weak". "People who are weak in front of Hamas in Gaza might bring a wave of horror to the West Bank," Gantz wrote on Twitter, referring to recent incidents in the occupied territory.
Gantz also pledged to form "the strongest security government" which "will regain deterrence" if he is elected prime minister during the upcoming general election, continuing his long-standing hawkish approach to the coastal enclave.
Head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman – who almost single-handedly prevented Netanyahu from forming a ruling coalition in May – echoed Gantz's sentiment, saying that Netanyahu "is an excellent presenter and campaigner, but a weak leader that lacks leadership and the ability to make decisions in times of real crises".
This weekend reports surfaced that Lieberman could sign a vote-sharing agreement with Gantz's Blue and White party, which would see those votes a party receives which are not enough to qualify for a full Knesset seat "donated" to the bigger party in the agreement.
With polls showing that Blue and White and Netanyahu's Likud party are currently tied at 31 seats each, such an agreement could sway the final result and determine which party is given the first shot at forming a ruling coalition.