Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed Operation Protective Edge on Sunday, opening his weekly Cabinet meeting with several harsh words for Hamas.
"Israel is conducting a vigorous military campaign against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip," Netanyahu began. "Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire."
"I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens and this is what we are doing," he continued. "We are striking Hamas with increasing strength. We are hitting commanders, militants, arsenals and command centers. The IDF, ISA, security services, firefighters, the Israel Police – everyone is doing their part and doing it in the best way possible."
'No' to a Ceasefire
Netanyahu stressed that it is Hamas, not Israel, who endangers civilian lives.
"But one must understand how our enemy operates," he said. "Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas."
"Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza; therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility," he declared. "The leadership of Hamas and the other organizations has chosen – at a time when they are using the population of Gaza as human shields – to hide under ground, to flee abroad and to deliberately put civilians in the line of fire."
"This is the entire difference between us and Hamas – we are using defensive systems against missiles to protect the residents of Israel and they are using the residents of Gaza to protect arsenals of missiles," he continued. "Nothing better underscores the difference in this campaign. Israel is a democracy that is fighting – in a legitimate and focused manner – against unbridled terrorists and no country in the world would do any less than we are doing to protect our citizens."
A Hamas spokesperson called for Gaza residents to act as human shields on live television earlier this week, calling the move "an effective strategy" in the PR war against Israel and encouraging Palestinian Arabs to stay in their homes despite IDF warnings to prevent casualties.
As a result, at least 166 have been estimated to have been killed in Gaza in less than a week - mostly civilians, according a United Nations estimate.
The deaths have sparked outrage from Arab countries and international bodies; calls have escalated for a cease-fire. Netanyahu emphasized, however, that Israel would continue to act against Hamas - despite pressure from the UN and others for such an arrangement.
"We will continue to act in a patient and level-headed manner, with responsibility, and vigorously in order to achieve the goal of the operation – the restoration of quiet for a long period while inflicting a significant blow on Hama and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip," he said. "The IDF is prepared for all possibilities."
Israel reportedly offered Hamas a 40-hour cease-fire last week, sources said Sunday afternoon, which Hamas immediately rejected. It should be noted that not only has Hamas breached each cease-fire ever offered from Israel since rocket fire began in 2001, but also that they have reiterated repeatedly during the current hostilities that they have no interest in a cease-fire arrangement.
Israel, too, rejected a cease-fire over the weekend, saying nothing by a total cessation of rocket-fire against Israeli civilians would be deemed acceptable.
Roughly 8,000 rockets have been fired on Israeli civilians since the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza.
The Prime Minister then turned to Israeli civilians.
"To the citizens of Israel: You are showing maturity and responsibility and I think that you are impressing the entire world," he began. "But I have one request: Do not be complacent."
"I know that there are people who are going out and who want to see the missiles," he continued. "I ask you: Do not do this. I ask that you enter protected spaces. We are speaking here from a protected space. We ask you to be in protected spaces and to listen to instructions from IDF Home Front Command."
"Someone rightly said that that regarding civil defense, one needs not only an Iron Dome but iron discipline as well," he added. "You have shown this up until now. This could yet take a long time and we need both your support and your discipline."
Netanyahu's comments surface hours after a teenager from the coastal city of Ashkelon was seriously injured by rocket fire.
An initial investigation shows the boy was standing outside when the sirens sounded, instead of following Home Front Command guidelines to find shelter as soon as possible.
A warning against Iran
Netanyahu concluded by linking the rocket fire to Iran.
"Today in Vienna, the foreign ministers of the major powers are discussing the question of dealing with Iran's nuclear program," he stated. "I would like to remind them Hamas and Islamic Jihad are being financed, armed and trained by Iran."
"Iran is a major power of terrorism that finances, arms and trains the terrorist organizations that we are fighting against," he continued. "This Iran cannot be allowed the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. If this happens, the things that we are seeing around us and the things that are happening in the Middle East will be far worse."
"In recent years we have made various forecasts for the Middle East – me and my colleagues here around the table – and these forecasts have, to my regret, come true one by one," he concluded.
"The prediction of Iran as a nuclear threshold state cannot be allowed to come true, it cannot. This cannot be and it will not be."
Iran has been crucial in providing Hamas and Islamic Jihad with long-range missiles such as the Fajr-5 and M302 - the latter of which is believed to have been used to target cities in central Israel.
Earlier this year, Israeli naval commandos seized the Klos C ship, and discovered weapons including long-range rockets destined for terrorist groups in Gaza.