"The government decided to launch this offensive in light of terror attacks from Gaza, which were escalating in intensity and frequency over recent months," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a press conference Wednesday, just before the cease-fire agreement that ended eight days of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas went into effect.
"I warned that we would respond harshly to these attacks when we chose to. I warned that we would exact a heavy price. The terror organizations assumed that we would not retaliate. They assumed wrong," Netanyahu said. "We enacted military force in keeping with diplomatic considerations. After a conversation with [U.S. President] Barack Obama I agreed that it would be wise to give a cease-fire a chance."
Netanyahu was explaining his decision to refrain from launching a ground invasion in Gaza. Thousands of IDF reservists were called up in the last week in preparation for such an invasion, but if the cease-fire continues to hold, the reservists will be sent home without having entered the Strip.
Netanyahu was speaking to the press at the Prime Minister's Office, accompanied by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
"We hit the top commanders of the terror organizations. We annihilated thousands of rockets aimed at [Israel's] south and most of the rockets aimed at the center. We destroyed Hamas command centers. All of this was carried out with the full support of leaders in the international community," Netanyahu said.
He thanked Obama for his support for Operation Pillar of Defense and for his declaration supporting Israel's right to defend itself, as well as for pledged U.S. funding of the Iron Dome batteries, which clearly changed the game in this round. Netanyahu also thanked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi for their efforts toward achieving a cease-fire agreement.
Describing his conversation with Obama, Netanyahu said that beyond agreeing that Israel should give the cease-fire a chance, "I agreed with him that a cease-fire would restore calm and allow the citizens of Israel to resume their daily routines. But obviously Israel cannot sit idly by as our enemies amass weapons of terror. That is why I agreed with President Obama that we would act together — Israel and the U.S. — to prevent the trafficking of weapons to terror organizations, mainly from Iran."
"I know there are citizens who expect more military action," Netanyahu said. "It is likely we will be called to that, but at this time, the right thing for Israel is to realize this opportunity to achieve a lasting cease-fire. As prime minister, I have the ultimate responsibility to take the right steps to maintain security. I acted as such and I will continue to do so."
Speaking to Army Radio Thursday morning, Barak said he was pleased that there had been only sporadic rocket fire after the cease-fire went into effect at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
"The tail is usually longer,” he said. “I hope that after this experience, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza have lost their taste for continued attacks. Each time the rounds of violence get shorter, like in this instance, there is no option but to take action. The objective is to keep the next round at bay for as long as possible by launching a harsh blow on the other side."
Barak also said, "No one expected Hama to be brought to their knees. No one thought that they would disappear … Only restoring Israel's rule over Gaza can topple Hamas' regime, but I'm not sure that would be wise."
During Wednesday night's press conference, Barak listed the achievements of the Israeli operation, saying, "We expect that the cease-fire will be upheld. We tasked the IDF with strengthening Israel's deterrence, we significantly reduced high-trajectory fire and severely damaged terrorist organizations. We reduced the damage to the homefront while inflicting maximum damage on Hamas and terrorist organizations while avoiding Palestinian civilian casualties."
"We are ready for a broader operation should the need arise. We fully achieved our goals," Barak said. "We expect full cooperation with the understandings. Hamas is responsible for halting the attacks. We know that if the memory of the hard hit diminishes over time, we will act as necessary, using even more of our strength as well as a broad ground operation."
Lieberman also spoke about the success of the operation: "There were three fronts: the military, the diplomatic and public opinion. I managed the operation in a coordinated and organized manner on all three fronts, diplomatically and consciously. In the diplomatic realm, we achieved all of our defined goals."
Lieberman also noted that international support for Israel, especially from the U.S. and the European Union, was a success. "Anyone who saw how it worked this time around knows that with respect to public diplomacy, we did fantastic work; all the other stories are fairy tales," he said.