TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will keep “all options on the table” as its military operation continues in Gaza.
Netanyahu also offered enthusiastic praise for U.S. support of Israel throughout the conflict.
As Operation Protective Edge in Gaza neared the end of its 26th day, Netanyahu said Saturday night during a conference at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv that the operation would continue “no matter how much time it takes and how much strength it requires.”
“Every option is on the table to ensure long-term quiet to the residents of Israel,” he said. “I won’t say when we’ll finish and where we’ll go. We have no obligation outside of our security concerns.”
Netanyahu’s remarks came at the end of a tumultuous weekend in Gaza. Shortly after Israel and Hamas agreed to a three-day cease-fire beginning at 8 a.m. Friday, Hamas killed two soldiers in a suicide bombing and was said to have captured a third. The Israel Defense Forces determined on Sunday that the soldier supposedly abducted, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was killed in action.
Fighting continued in Gaza through Friday and Saturday, though the IDF began withdrawing an unspecified number of troops on Saturday.
Following Netanyahu’s statement, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the IDF was nearing the end of its mission to destroy Hamas’ network of tunnels in Gaza.
Ahead of Netanyahu’s statement on Saturday, Goldin’s family held a news conference during which they called for the IDF to continue operations until the soldier is returned.
“I demand that the state of Israel not leave Gaza until it brings my child home,” said Hedva Goldin, the soldier’s mother. “I demand the state of Israel not give up on my child, and not give up on any child who went out to defend the state of Israel.”
Netanyahu said he planned to speak to the Goldin family after his statement and that “their statement touched my heart.” But he added that “we will continue the operation until it reaches its goals, and the deliberations will be based on those concerns.”
“I’m ready to get to the end of the operation militarily or, if I can, diplomatically,” he said. “I prefer to diplomatically, but if that is impossible, we’ll use all of the tools available.”
The prime minister said “the U.S. has been terrific,” and offered strong words of praise for President Obama and for an “untiring effort” by Secretary of State John Kerry. He also thanked the United States for its financial support of the Iron Dome missile defense system.
“President Obama has made constant statements on Israel’s right to defend itself,” Netanyahu said. “I appreciate it deeply.”
Netanyahu also blamed Qatar for funding Hamas and harboring Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ political head. But Netanyahu also noted an emerging “constellation” of Middle Eastern states that oppose Hamas and “that allows us to create a new reality.”