Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited an Israel Air Force base near Rishon Lezion on Sunday and met with pilots who took part in the recently concluded Operation Pillar of Defense in the Gaza Strip. "You completed your missions in a precise fashion," the prime minister commended the pilots.
Accompanying the prime minister were Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel Defense Forces Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel.
"If the calm is preserved," Netanyahu said of the cease-fire agreement struck last week which saw both sides hold their fire, "you will continue to prepare for the next operation. But if the calm is violated, you will go back [to Gaza] to destroy whatever is left standing."
"I salute the reserve soldiers for their determination to enlist quickly for the sake of the country's security," Netanyahu added. "We may very well need them down the road."
The prime minister went on to say that Hamas had suffered a devastating blow to its weapons stores. "During Operation Pillar of Defense, most of the rockets aimed at central Israel, and thousands of rockets aimed at southern Israel, were destroyed. The moment the operation achieved its stated objectives there was no reason to keep it going. We decided when to launch it, and we controlled how it ended. If the calm persists, it will beget calm. If it is violated, we will respond harshly."
During a visit to a military base in central Israel on Sunday, Gantz was asked about Hamas rearming itself, to which he replied: "Growing military power is not a new problem in the Middle East. We will make every effort to sabotage this trend."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Hamas said on Sunday that eight days of Israeli bombings in the Gaza Strip caused $545 million in property damage and another $700 million in indirect losses to the enclave's economy.
Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nono said Israel destroyed 200 residential buildings and damaged 8,000 other dwellings. In addition, he said, 43 government buildings and three mosques were flattened.
"There was around a billion and 250 million U.S. dollars [in damage]. Some 545 U.S. million dollars in direct losses and 700 million U.S. dollars in indirect losses," he added without specifying the nature of indirect losses. He said Hamas would begin registering property claims and providing compensation.
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, saying he acts in accordance with U.N. resolutions, explained, "I have come here to assess the damage and I will also go to Israel to assess damage in Israel as a result of this conflict and then I will be going to New York to report to the secretary-general."
Israel launched the air offensive on Nov. 14 with the declared aim of deterring Gaza terrorists from carrying out cross-border rocket attacks. It said it did its utmost to prevent civilian casualties and limit damage to homes in targeting terrorists firing rockets from densely populated urban areas, and it has accused Palestinian fighters of hiding rockets and other weapons in mosques.
In Israel, the business information firm BDI estimated a cost to the Israeli economy of 1.1 billion shekels ($281 million) a week, including direct costs of 700 million shekels ($181 million) for items such as fuel and ammunition.
Direct damage from Palestinian rockets on homes, cars and factories is some 25 million shekels ($6.5 million) a week, BDI said. This is less than the damages incurred from fighting between Israel and Hamas in late 2008 and early 2009 as Israel now uses the Iron Dome system to intercept many rockets.
Further costs come from the call-up of army reservists and their absences from work, while loss of output in Israel's south will amount to 200 million shekels ($52 million), with the rest of the country losing 120 million shekels ($31 million) due to a change in the national mood as consumers stayed away from places of entertainment, BDI said.