Israelis mourn and light candles in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on June 30 after the announcement that the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers were found. (Oren Ziv / AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed revenge on the Hamas organization it blames for the murders of three teens, whose bodies were discovered June 30 under a pile of rocks in a West Bank village near Hebron.
“They were murdered in cold blood by human animals,” Netanyahu said at the start of an emergency cabinet session hours after a combined Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Shin Bet operation brought grisly closure to the 18-day search for the abducted teens.
“Hamas is responsible; Hamas will pay,” he vowed in response to the tsunami of public and political outrage provoked by the murders.
As news of the teen’s fate spread rapidly throughout Israel, politicians clamored for decisive, albeit unspecified, action against Hamas and the Hamas-backed consensus government headed by Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Centrist leaders, such as Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, called on Abbas to immediately “distance himself from the Hamas terror organizations that perpetrated this despicable crime.”
Colleagues to the right of the political spectrum exhorted for more extreme measures.
“Against Hamas, a terror organization of murderers, there’s only one thing to be done: smash,” said Ofir Akunis, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, who holds a deputy ministerial post in Israel’s coalition government.
Economic Minister Naftali Bennett from the government’s hardline Jewish Homeland party warned, “There is no forgiveness for the murderers of children and their emissaries ... Now is the time for action.”
Even Israel’s outgoing President Shimon Peres, a fervent defender of Abbas and his government’s commitment to nonviolence, insisted that terrorists must be “punished ... with a firm hand.”
“Our war on terror will only grow and will not be diminished,” Peres said in a June 30 statement.
An IDF officer said conclusion of the search and rescue part of the ongoing “Operation Brother’s Keeper” does not signal the end of large-scale military maneuvering throughout the West Bank.
On the contrary, the IDF is preparing for political orders to escalate operations not only in the West Bank, but at Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip.
Already, the IDF is augmenting its ability to defend against Gaza-launched rockets with additional deployments of Iron Dome intercepting batteries.
Since the June 12 kidnapping, the IDF estimates that Gaza-based militants launched more 60 rockets at Israel. Of those, 38 landed on Israel’s side of the border, mostly in open areas; while Iron Dome intercepted nine rockets headed for populated areas.
During that same period, Israel has responded with air attacks on dozens of targets in northern and southern parts of the Gaza Strip, but as so far refrained from ground operations.
“That could change by tomorrow morning,” the IDF officer said.
He added, “It all depends on what the government decides.” ■