(CNSNews.com) – Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor said Israel’s ongoing military incursion into Gaza is in response to sustained rocket attacks against Israel by the ruling Hamas party that began Dec. 19 – marking the end of a fragile six-month ceasefire between the two countries that Meridor said allowed the terrorist organization to regroup.
“Hamas is using these six months for a major build up,” Meridor said Tuesday at an event at George Washington University sponsored by the Homeland Security Policy Institute.
“They are expanding the range of their rockets by a multiple of two, from a bit more than 10 miles to more than 20 miles. And they quadrupled the number of Israelis under fire from a quarter million to a million. This is over a period of six months,” Meridor added.
Meridor said the decision to respond militarily to Hamas was necessary to protect the people of Israel.
“For more than eight days they fired more than 400 rockets and mortars into Israel, leaving Israel with no choice but to take defensive measures,” Meridor said.
But Leon Hadar, research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said who started the conflict may not be the main issue at stake in a volatile Middle East.
“Clearly, Israel may be justified in its response if you focus on the rocket attacks against Israel,” Hadar said. “But it’s not whether they have a moral right or a legal right, but what are they going to get by doing it?”
Hadar said if Israel’s goal is to stop Hamas’ rocket and mortar attacks, it has failed to do so, despite Israel’s more than 10-day air-and-ground assault against Gaza, which has caused the death of Israeli troops and hundreds of Palestinians, including civilians. He said if Israel hopes to topple Hamas, it has not succeeded so far.
“They are still in power,” Hadar said. “They are still there.”
Meridor defended Israel’s efforts to limit civilian casualties, saying that the military has even issued warnings before striking targets to allow civilians to evacuate. The ambassador also said that Hamas is using civilians as “shields” by assembling rockets in mosques and storing other weapons and explosives in places where civilians live.
But Hadar said the growing number of civilian deaths in the conflict, including the deaths of a dozen or more children at a United Nations school in Gaza City on Tuesday, is increasing international pressure on Israel to agree to another cease-fire.
Meridor, however, said that the conflict between Israel and Hamas is only part of a global war on terror that will require the free world to stand up against terrorists and those who sponsor it, including Iran.
“What the terrorists are building is exactly on creating divisions, exactly on creating incitement, exactly on the international community into their hands,” Meridor said. “They are killing people. They are causing incitement, and they are playing to the world galleries for support.
“The world should be united in an effort to stop them and to push them back and to protect world order and the chance for peace,” Meridor said.
Meridor said Israel believes it has a chance for a negotiated peace with the Palestinian Authority, but it may not be possible with Hamas, which denies Israel’s right to exist.
“Peace is the dream of Israel, not a threat to it,” he said.