'Peace in Gaza will follow peace in Israel' - IDF spokesperson

The Israeli government claims that recent air strikes on Gaza only target terrorists, but recent evidence suggests otherwise. At least 29 civilians – including five children - were killed by Israeli air strikes on Sunday.

At least 69 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since Operation Pillar of Defense began.  And the violence doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the country is ready to expand its operation against militants in the Gaza Strip.

Avital Leibovich, spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), told RT that the country is still prepared to“do whatever it needs to do – ground or air” in order to protect itself.

“The equation is very clear. If there is quiet in Israel, there will be peace and quiet in Gaza,” she said.

Leibovich spoke to RT about the motivations behind Operation Pillar of Defense.

RT's office was hit and our team was given no warning, but you’re saying the precision bombing is only targeting terrorists. So why was the office hit?

Avital Leibovich: This is a classic case where Hamas is using civilians – this time journalists – as human shields. We are talking about two media buildings, indeed. But on the roofs of these media buildings, Hamas wisely positioned a whole system of communications and electronics for its own personal operational work. We targeted only these antennas – these communication centers – and I spread films earlier today showing this exactly. You can see an accurate hit on the roof. None of the floors were targeted. Of course, there were some windows shattered and so on, as a result of the explosives. But the direction was not the floors. Rather, it was the antennas and communication centers on the roof.

RT: By doing this, you do realize you’re putting journalists at risk. Is the main aim actually to prevent reporters from doing their jobs? Are you denying them the ability to tell the detailed truth of what is happening in Gaza?

AL: If that were our aim, we probably would have closed the Gaza Strip and not allowed anyone to go in. But on the contrary, Gaza is open and we want journalists to come and see what’s going on. The threat is not an Israeli threat. The threat is the fact that every day, there is ongoing rocket fire from Gaza into Israel – an average of over 130 rockets a day. Almost all of them are fired from civilian areas inside the Gaza Strip. Aren't the journalists afraid of this situation? 

RT: Are you giving warnings ahead of these bombings?

AL: We are giving a very general warning.

RT: “General warning” is fairly ambiguous, isn’t it? When you’re knocking out communication centers, how can you give a warning – even if it is general?

AL: We exploded an antenna on the roof. We didn’t target any floor or person in that building. I think that if a journalist chooses to locate himself near a Hamas facility, that’s a mistake.

RT: Today, one of your bombs has hit a house in Gaza, killing 10 civilians – including children. It was reportedly the home of a Hamas official who wasn’t even there at the time – so clearly your intelligence was inaccurate. Innocents died in that attack. Why did that happen?

AL: Well, innocents have died many times on the Israeli side, as well. I think your coverage and questions aren’t balanced at all. After all, we’re looking at more than a decade of rockets landing in Israel every day. They don’t come from the sky. They come from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other organizations. We are now in an operation defending half this country’s population and we are determined to continue with this operation until we bring some peace and quiet to this country. The equation is very clear. If there is quiet in Israel, there will be peace and quiet in Gaza.

RT: Officials have been saying Israel's ready to significantly expand the operation – which presumably means a ground invasion. We’ve already heard from the UK that you would lose sympathy and support if you did that. Is that any concern?

AL: A ground operation is only one option. We have many options in addition to that. Currently, there is no such decision to launch a ground operation – but if there will be one, we are ready and prepared for action.

RT: What’s the aim of this ground invasion, bearing in mind you did a ground invasion four years ago…and where did that lead us to?

AL: Four years ago, it was a totally different situation. Hamas didn’t have Iranian manufactured rockets that can hit all the way to Tel Aviv. Four years ago, Hamas didn’t have the drone capabilities – drones that can be manned with explosives and explode themselves into Israeli skies. This is a whole different situation. We will do whatever we need to do – ground or air – in order to protect half of this country’s population. Because naturally, Israel – just like any country in the world – has the basic right to self-defense.

RT: Your interior ministry says one of the aims is to send Gaza back to the middle ages, which implies you are targeting an entire people. What’s the message behind that statement?

AL: I’m not a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior. I’m a spokesperson for the IDF. And one of the goals of the IDF is to cripple the capabilities of the different organizations in Gaza. Cripple them of their huge arsenals – an arsenal that they built for years and years. They smuggled weapons through hundreds of tunnels, and Gaza has served in the last couple of years as the backyard of many deserts in Africa, making it a lot more convenient to smuggle weapons inside the country.

RT: You’re not a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, but perhaps you could at least give us some sort of idea of what they’re implying here. What do they mean by “returning Gaza to the middle ages?”

AL: Once again, I’m not a spokeswoman for that ministry. The goal of Operation Pillar of Defense is divided into two. The first part is to defend the Israeli population – 3.5 million Israelis have been under rocket danger for the past decade. The second part is to make sure these terror organizations are getting a very severe blow to the arsenals – to the huge amounts of rockets, launchers, and launching sites. This is so we can live peacefully and quietly like any other country in the world.

RT: You make a very persuasive argument, but the international community is concerned about the increasing number of civilian deaths. Last night, I spoke with your colleague, Josh Hantman. He claimed that Hamas is rounding up civilians to shield targets you’re about to bomb. But how can Hamas possibly know your exact targets and respond quickly enough?

AL: Hamas is targeting only Israeli cities. You are more than welcome to spend just two hours in one of the biggest Israeli cities that were targeted for the past years. Each of these cities has more than 200,000 people. Did you ever feel what it’s like to run into a shelter and have 15 seconds to do it, or to raise children and a family inside a shelter-protected room and sleep there night after night? This is not normal. It should not be this way.

RT: We can ask the Gazans the same question, of course.

AL: I beg to differ because you can't make that equation. Hamas is targeting civilians. We are not looking to target civilians. We are targeting terrorists, so the equation is not in place.

RT: The very reason this is happening is because of Israeli policy toward the Gazans – the way they’ve been suffering from the blockade. That has been the provocation, hasn’t it?

AL: What blockade? There is a border to Egypt. It is open. Do you know that every day, we allow patients from Gaza to get hospitalization in Israel, despite the rocket fire? We supply truckloads of supplies every day. Even today, more than 130 trucks entered Gaza with a variety of supplies – despite the rocket fire. What other country in the world would act this way?