Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave a press conference to foreign journalists on Wednesday, to provide an update on Operation Protective Edge after a 72-hour ceasefire.
Netanyahu began by noting that Israel is ready if the ceasefire is violated, saying the situation has improved since the war and that more units have been employed along the Gaza border.
"We closely monitor the implementation of the ceasefire on the ground, and we are holding position in the event it is violated," he stated. "The army is in the field, with reinforcements, to meet any scenario."
"In any case, around the Gaza vicinity communities we have stationed forces that were not there before the operation, in order to provide better protection for local residents," he added.
"In recent years, Hamas dug a tunnel system in order to carry out attacks against Israeli citizens," the Prime Minister continued, adding that "we left the area only after making sure that the IDF destroyed the tunnel systems that we knew about."
"Hamas also built a rocket system designed to harm Israeli citizens," he continued. "It is the Iron Dome, along with the iron discipline of the citizens of Israel, which prevented this [from succeeding]."
Regarding the future, Netanyahu said that the IDF is working “to create technology means to locate new tunnels that will reach into our territory,” Netanyahu stated.
The Prime Minister also thanked the IDF for its progress.
“The IDF is an amazing army," he said. "It’s a strong army [which] had major achievements. It stood and stands by all the requirements."
"The entire nation is behind the IDF, during peace and during war," he added. "I am proud of the IDF. I am proud to be the prime minister of such united a people.”
Operation Protective Edge was 'proportionate'
The Prime Minister also refuted smears against the IDF and Israel and the mission behind the operation, stating that the offensive was "proportionate."
"I think it was justified. I think it was proportionate and that doesn't in any way take away the deep regret we have for the loss of a single civilian casualty," he said.
Netanyahu emphasized that Hamas, not Israel, is responsible for civilian casualties.
"The person responsible for destruction and death in Gaza is Hamas," he stated.
Netanyahu then showed footage of rocket attacks suppressed by Hamas terrorists, confirming several reports - including from the Government Press Office - that foreign journalists were abused by Hamas terrorists, as well as the UN's role in the conflict.
"This is the UNRWA's elementary school for boys," he explains. "You see around that five mortars fired, four mortars fired . . .it's important to see that, to understand what our forces are facing in Gaza."
He also showed terror tunnels and shafts next to mosques and schools.
"This is where terror tunnels are dug. In many places, they are dug from homes," he noted. "This is as example, again, of terror tunnels used to fire at, kidnap, and kill our civilians."
Now that journalists have left Gaza, he said, "I expect to see even more documentation of Hamas terrorists hiding behind civilian population [. . .] I think the truth should come out."
To that end, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel's goals - unlike what has been represented in foreign media - were to protect Israelis, not harm Palestinians.
"The goal of Operation Protective Edge was to protect Israeli civilians - to protect them from 3,500 rockets [. . .] and from terror tunnels and death squads," he stated.
"Israel deeply regrets every civilian casualty, every single one. We do not target them; we do not seek them," he continued. "The people of Gaza are not our enemy. Our enemy is Hamas; our enemy are the other terrorist organizations trying to kill our people. And we’ve taken extraordinary circumstances and measures to avoid civilian casualties."
"The tragedy of Gaza is that it is ruled by Hamas – a tyrannical and fanatical terror group that relishes civilian casualties. They want civilian casualties. They use them as PR fodder."
"So it’s not that they don’t want them; they want them. And they pretty much say so. Indeed Hamas has adopted a strategy that abuses and sacrifices Gaza’s civilians. They use them as human shields; they endanger them and deliberately increase the death toll. They fire their rockets at Israel from schools, from hospitals, from mosques."
"You’ve just seen that. From urban neighborhoods, and right next to schools where journalists are staying. You can discover that for yourself."
Skewed coverage of conflict a 'mistake'
Netanyahu warned that the international community's condemnation of Israel sets a dangerous precedent for the global war against Islamist terrorism.
"Of course nearly everyone says that they support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we appreciate those who say this," he began. "But there are those who refuse to recognize or to let Israel exercise that right. They would allow Hamas to attack with impunity, because they say they’re firing from schools or from mosques or from hospitals and Israel should not take action against them."
"That’s obviously a mistake," he continued. "It’s a moral mistake. It’s an operational mistake. Because that would validate and legitimize Hamas’s use of human shields, and it would hand an enormous victory to terrorists everywhere and a devastating effect to the free societies that are fighting terrorism."
"If this were to happen, more and more civilians will die around the world, because this is a testing period now. Can a terrorist organization fire thousands of rockets at cities of a democracy? Can a terrorist organization embed itself in civilian areas? Can it dig terror tunnels from civilian areas? Can it do so with impunity because it counts on the victimized country to respond as it must, as any country would, and then be blamed for it? Can we accept a situation in which the terrorists would be exonerated and the victims accused?"
"The test is for the civilized world itself: how it is able to defend itself," he stated, juxtaposing this strategy to Hezbollah, Boko Haram, and ISIS takeovers worldwide.
In connection to this, Netanyahu noted Hamas's timing. More than just rejected six cease-fires, the final cease-fire - which was implemented Tuesday at 8:00 am - is the same that was offered, and rejected, very early on in the fighting.
"90% of the fatalities in this conflict could have been avoided if Hamas had not rejected then the ceasefire it accepts now," Netanyahu fired, calling for Hamas to "be ostracized" by the international community.
"It must be ostracized from the family of nations for its callous abuse of civilians," he stated.
"Every civilian casualty is a tragedy of Hamas's own making," he continued. "This is something for which it must be held accountable. For the sake of all our children, Hamas must not be allowed to get away with this."