Israel cannot protect itself from the threat posed by the terror tunnels with the Iron Dome, so continuing to combat it is a necessity, GOC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Sami Turgeman said on Monday.
Turgeman said the joint mission by the ground forces, the artillery corps and the air force has been successful in hitting hundreds of Hamas militants. But despite that, the mission isn't done yet, he stressed.
"A country that cherishes life must fight the tunnel infrastructure. There is no Iron Dome to fight the tunnel threat, there's only Sisyphean work," Turgeman said as Israel buried even more of its fallen soldiers.
"The fighting in the Strip is hard and complicated. Everywhere we operated in, we destroyed tunnels. In fighting this complicated there are casualties," he said.
After the IDF Spokesperson's Unit released a chilling clip of Gaza terrorists emerging from a tunnel into Israeli territory, Netanyahu said "the operation will continue and expand until it achieves its objective – returning the quiet to the Israeli people for a prolonged period."
Netanyahu was visiting military positions in southern Israel on Monday afternoon. He had a security briefing with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, IDF Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Benny Gantz, and GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman.
Netanyahu said the "IDF is progressing on the ground according to plan. The achievements on the battlefield are clear. I am impressed with the operations to destroy the tunnels, which has accomplished results beyond our expectation."
The Likud leader expressed his support for the soldiers. "In the name of the Israeli people I say to all of our soldiers in the field that we are proud of your strength of spirit and are praying for your safety. The military campaign is complex and will have difficult moments. I am positive that together we can achieve our objective."
Earlier in the day several ministers expressed their rejection of international pressure to end the operation and their thoughts on a potential future Israeli presence in Gaza.
"We need to consider leaving an IDF presence in parts of the northern Gaza Strip," said cabinet member Gilad Erdan. "Until we destroy the tunnels – we should not agree to any ceasefire offer."
Erdan's remarks are a subtle signal to the statements made by the defense minister on Sunday at a press conference in the Kirya. In response to a question about what Israel would do if a ceasefire was externally enforced in the coming days, Moshe Ya'alon said: "We'll cross that bridge when we get there, but I estimate that the lion's share of tunnels will have been destroyed."
Communications Minister Erdan disagreed with that assessment during a visit to injured soldiers in the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. "There will be no ceasefire until the mission is achieved. This is part of learning from the past. We knew it would not be simple or easy, but we are seeing results faster than we expected. We have given a green light to expand the operation."
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was visiting the Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, echoed Erdan's statements. "I believe that the fighting will continue for a prolonged period and could entail further escalations. The foremost objective is to hit Hamas and collapse its infrastructure."
Steinitz added: "The secondary objective is to return the calm. This objective has yet to be reached. And we will take over all of Gaza if we need to. The third objective is the demilitarization of Gaza."
Ilana Curiel contributed to this report.