During and immediately after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Netanyahu proclaimed that he would seek the removal of Hamas’ reign over the Gaza Strip through “all the means necessary” and criticized the Olmert administration for ending the offensive “too soon.”
“The action that is required is something that removes this Hamas regime from the scene,” Netanyahu said. Asked if Israel was seeking to do this during the military campaign it launched on Saturday with the declared aim of halting Hamas rocket attacks, he said: “Whether it can be done right now is something I don’t think we should discuss here. But it should be discussed because ultimately, if we don’t do it, then Hamas will rearm itself.” Netanyahu replied in the affirmative when asked if removing the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, territory the Islamist group seized in 2007, would be a key goal of a Likud-led government. As to how it would go about ending Hamas’s control of the coastal enclave, he said, without elaborating: “With all the means necessary to achieve it.”
Netanyahu says the government stopped the operation before the military could halt Hamas arms smuggling through tunnels under the border with Egypt. He also called for removing Hamas from power. He told a security conference that the government “did not allow the military to plug the hole in the south.” Netanyahu said the Hamas regime in Gaza is an extremist fanatic regime backed by the extremist fanatic government of Iran. Hamas forces overran Gaza in June 2007. “There is no choice but to uproot the Iranian-backed regime in Gaza,” he said. He stopped short of saying that he would attack Gaza again to bring that about if he is elected.
Turning to Gaza, Netanyahu explained that it would not be part of any agreement reached with the Palestinians as long as HAMAS continued to run that territory. He was mildly critical of the present government’s decision to end Operation Cast Lead when it did, characterizing the hostilities as only “a punch in the nose that had gotten HAMAS’s attention.” He averred that removing HAMAS from power would not necessarily produce a worse regime there, as alternative groups are not as close to Iran as is HAMAS.
Now fast forward to the present time. Despite the recent rift between Hamas and Iran (mostly over the issue of Syria), the IDF Spokesman has just declared that “Gaza Strip has become a front base for Iran.” This conflation of the Hamas regime with the supposedly existential Iranian threat was a key part of Netanyahu’s argument for smashing Hamas in Gaza once and for all back in late 2008/early 2009.
Now, very little is known about how far Israel is willing to take things this time around. Public statements by Israeli officials currently indicate the overarching goal of weakening Hamas’ capabilities but not destroying them altogether. It remains to be seen if Netanyahu will stick to the advice he issued years ago.