Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Saturday echoed Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's criticism of Israel's policy of restraint.
"The south's residents are not second class citizens, and we need to respond to rocket fire on Beersheba the same way we would've responded to rocket fire on Tel Aviv, rather than just wait for rockets on Tel Aviv," Bennett said.
Bennett's criticism came as the situation on the Gaza border continued to deteriorate. Gaza terrorists continued firing rockets at the Israeli south all day Saturday, and the Israel Air Force waited until evening time to strike back. A rocket was fired at Beersheba for the first time, and intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
- IDF chief: We'll respond with force if calm is not restored
- Diskin: Delusional government brought us to this security deterioration
- Rockets continue to hit south, IDF refrains from response
Bennett asserted that the strategy of "calm will be met with calm" harms the Israeli deterrence and allows Hamas to grow stronger from one round of hostilities to the next.
"Practicing restraint while (the other side continues firing at) women and children does not show strength. Practicing restraint while three children are executed is weakness. From Syria to Wadi Ara, they're watching the residents of Beersheba running for cover, expecting a forceful response, and interpreting our inaction as a fear to act. Having a million people in shelters and safe rooms is not a situation that can continue," the Bayit Yehudi leader said.
"I don't accept the statement that says there is no way to stop the rockets," Bennett said. "The people of Israel are showing a unique kind of strength, they're ready to take on any mission, and our statement needs to be clear: Zero rockets on Israeli cities, zero patience to terrorism and zero patience to the Palestinian Authority's incitement that we pay for with blood. This is the right policy. I will continue working to advance this policy."
During last week's cabinet meetings, Bennett demanded Netanyahu to draw a connection between the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers to the rocket fire from Gaza. Bennett believes that there's a connection between Gaza and the West Bank, and that Hamas in the West Bank is working with Hamas in Gaza.
But, after several long cabinet meetings and the IDF's warning that an operation in Gaza will bring 2 million Israelis in Tel Aviv and north of it into the rockets' range, the ministers agreed that Israel will seek a ceasefire and strive for calm, while at the same time threatening Hamas with an even stronger blow if rocket fire doesn't stop.
Earlier this week, Yisrael Beinteinu leader Lieberman visited Sderot and criticized reports of a ceasefire with Hamas.
"We're making a grave mistake. The message of calm will be met with calm, is a grave attitude and we oppose it. We have to lay our hands on those who support and encourage terrorism, including Khaled Mashal and (Ismail) Haniyeh, who need to know they're a legitimate target," Lieberman said.
The defense establishment believes the situation will calm down. A government official stated Ramadan was what was delaying the cease fire.
"The rocket fire continues because of the holiday. They have to show that they're not stopping when Israel tells them to. These are sensitive times, our direction is calm unless the fire continues for some reason," the official said.
Israel has been passing messages to the Gaza Strip through different channels, according to which it was not interested in escalation and that all of the military activities done so far were strictly for defensive purposes. But at the same time Israel passed another message saying if rocket fire from the Strip continues, it will have no choice but to increase strikes against Gaza.
A government source said that "Israel is still in the stage of studying the situation, but it's still unclear whether the messages passed on to Hamas have been received and understood."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made similar comments: "If firing toward our residents in the south continues, then our bolstered forces there will act forcefully".
Despite the ongoing rocket fire, the IDF's response is still that of restraint. On Saturday, eight terror targets were attacked in the southern Gaza Strip. In addition to that, the IAF fired a missile at the rocket launcher that fired at Ofakim and at a terrorist that was preparing to fire at Israel. Both targets were accurately hit.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu held a situation assessment with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitz, police commissioner Yohanan Danino and Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen.
Netanyahu said that IDF forces were working against Hamas targets and were prepared for any development in area. He added that IDF activity is conducted responsibly and with determination to restore the peace. The prime minister added that if necessary, the IDF will increase its attacks.
Moran Azulay contributed to this report.