Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday announced that his forces have entered the “second stage” of its war with the terrorist group Hamas, calling the fight a “second War of Independence.”
“The war inside the Gaza Strip will be long and difficult, and we are prepared for it,” Netanyahu said during a press conference in the evening, local time. “This is our second War of Independence.”
“We will fight for the defense of the homeland,” he continued. “We will fight and not retreat. We will fight on land, sea and in the air. We will destroy the enemy above ground, and underground. We will fight and win.”
“The war inside the Gaza Strip will be long and difficult, and we are prepared for it,” he added, saying that the war is now “my life’s mission.”
Netanyahu spoke at the end of a difficult week for Israel, with more discussion and frustration on both sides of the conflict as some world leaders called for a humanitarian pause or a ceasefire. The United Nations voted on several motions and passed one calling for a ceasefire, which Israel outright rejected and labeled “despicable.”
Tension remained high as Israel continued to make incursions into Gaza ahead of a much-anticipated ground invasion: Allies had reportedly urged Israel to hold back while negotiations over the 220 hostages dragged on, which frustrated Israeli leadership who accused Hamas of using the negotiations to delay and regroup.
Instead of a wide–scale ground invasion, Netanyahu announced Saturday the “second phase of the war, whose goals are clear: The destruction of Hamas’s military and governmental capabilities, and the return of the hostages home.”
“We decided to expand ground operations unanimously – both in the War Cabinet and in the political-security cabinet,” Netanyahu said. “We did so in a prudent and informed manner, out of a commitment to ensuring the fate of the state and ensuring the safety of our soldiers.”
“We did so in a prudent and informed manner, out of a commitment to ensuring the fate of the state and ensuring the safety of our soldiers,” he continued. “The commanders and fighters who are now fighting in enemy territory know that the people, and the leadership of the people, stand behind them.”
Netanyahu invoked the history of the Jewish people, recalling Joshua Ben-Nun, Judah Maccabee and Bar Kochba – heroes of the Jewish people – as well as famous victories in the Six Days War and Yom Kippur War, as well as the famous refrain, “never again, never again.”
He reiterated the warnings about how Hamas operates – using civilians as human shields and hiding beneath hospitals to carry out their operations while manipulating international law for protection. He claimed that Israel’s allies in the “Western world and … the Arab world, understand today that if Israel does not win, they will be next in line in the campaign of conquest and murder of the axis of evil.”
In an Op-Ed published Saturday in The New York Times, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross claimed that he had spoken with allies across the Middle East during the past two weeks and found that Arab officials understood “that Hamas must be destroyed in Gaza,” since any perceived victory for the terrorists “will validate the group’s ideology of rejection, give leverage and momentum to Iran and its collaborators and put their own governments on the defensive.”
Netanyahu leaned on that existential threat at the peak of his speech, stressing that the war on Hamas is a fight “to be or to cease,” but he insisted that Israel would succeed, saying, “we will be and we will win” but admitting the war would not end quickly.
“In the first weeks of the war, we crushed the enemy with massive air strikes, and in recent days with increasing force, in order to help our forces enter the ground in the safest possible way,” he said. “We have eliminated countless murderers, including multi-murderers, we have destroyed countless terrorist headquarters and infrastructure – we are only at the beginning of the road.”