Gaza to be Israel’s ‘hottest’ front in 2018: Spokesman

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: Israel’s front with the Gaza Strip will be the “hottest” in 2018, compared to its Syrian, Lebanese and West Bank fronts, according to Israeli military spokesman Avichay Adraee.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Adraee said the Israeli army this year would finalize the construction of a cement barrier around the blockaded Gaza Strip with the stated aim of stopping Hamas from digging cross-border tunnels into Israeli territory.

“The barrier [around Gaza] is similar to walls built on the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian borders,” he said. “But the Gaza barrier also includes underground components [to disrupt cross-border tunnels].”

“There has been relative calm in recent days [on Israel’s southern border],” Adraee went on to say, adding: “Our policy now is to achieve a state of total calm vis-à-vis Gaza.”

As to why he believed that Israel’s front with Gaza would be the “hottest” this year, Adraee said: “The problem with the Gaza Strip in 2018 will be the humanitarian aspect; this worries us.”

He went on to stress, however, that escalations were possible on all of Israel’s borders with its neighbors.

Home to some two million Palestinians, the Gaza Strip continues to reel under a crippling blockade, first imposed by Israel — in conjunction with Egypt — when Hamas seized control of the coastal enclave in 2007.

Within the last decade, Israel has waged three major military campaigns against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip — in 2008/9, 2012 and 2014 — which left thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, dead.

“In the Middle East, a small tactical incident can trigger a larger crisis,” Adraee told Anadolu Agency.

“We believe that any escalation — on any front — can be triggered by small tactical events,” he said.

“For this reason, we must always be prepared for any event that might lead to wider escalation.” “The army is al-ways either at war or preparing for war,” the spokesman added. “And preparing for w-ar means training and equipping. We have bolstered our capabilities and readiness with the assessment that it is in Israel’s interest to maintain calm on all sides.”

According to Adraee, the Israeli military sees “no real threat” from the Daesh terrorist group, which has recently suffered a string of defeats in Iraq and Syria after overrunning vast territories in both countries in 2014.

With regard to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, with which Israel fought a major conflict in 2006, Adraee said: “Despite the acquisition of advanced weapons from Iran, Hezbollah is currently preoccupied with the situation in Syria.”

“Hezbollah has no interest in igniting the Lebanese front, while Syria has no interest in fighting a war [with Israel],” he went on to say, adding that the Iranian military presence in Syria would likely remain “for some time”.He also said the Palestinians were not interested in escalating the situation in the West Bank.

“With regard to the West Bank, no one is interested in seeing a return to the situation we saw there 10 years ago,” he said, referring to the Second Intifada, a five-year Palestinian uprising that began in 2000.

Notably, on Tuesday evening, an Israeli settler was shot dead by unknown gunmen south of the West Bank city of Nablus. Hours later, Hamas’ armed wing praised the attack.

Meanwhile, Norway and the European Union will convene an extraordinary session of the international donor group for Palestine, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), the EU’s foreign service said on Wednesday.

The extraordinary session will be held in Brussels on Jan. 31 at the ministerial level and will be co-chaired by Ine Eriksen Soreide, Norway’s foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, said a statement by the European External Action Service.

“There is an urgent need to bring all parties together to discuss measures to speed up efforts that can underpin a negotiated two-state solution,” said the statement.