There is a realignment of forces in the Middle East based on the common concern with the dangers posed by radical Islamic terrorists. I'd like to see if we can translate this understanding of our common challenges into cooperation and the achievement of peace between Israel and our Palestinian neighbors.
Upon the establishment of the ceasefire, I can say that there is a major military achievement here, as well as a major diplomatic achievement for the State of Israel. Hamas was hit hard and it did not receive even a single one of the conditions that it set for a ceasefire, not even one. As Prime Minister of Israel, I hold the supreme responsibility for the security of Israel's citizens and this is what guided my colleagues - Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz - and I during each stage of Operation Protective Edge. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the cooperation and the joint work for the security of Israel's citizens.
From the first moment we set a clear goal: The goal was to strike hard at Hamas and the terrorist organizations and in so doing bring prolonged quiet to all Israeli citizens. I can say that Hamas was indeed hit very hard. First of all, we destroyed the network of attack tunnels that it built over the years. I would like to make it clear that we introduced the ground force for this goal. When the mission was completed, when the IDF reported to us that this mission had been completed, we pulled the force back in order to deny Hamas the possibility of killing our soldiers or abducting them, goals that it very much aspired to.
We continued to attack from the air. Approximately 1,000 terrorists were killed, including senior terrorists, very senior terrorists from among its top command. We destroyed thousands of rockets, rocket launchers, rocket production facilities and other weapons, arsenals, command and control positions, hundreds of command positions, hundreds. We also foiled, of course, attempts by Hamas to attack us by land, sea and air. Above all, thanks to Iron Dome, we foiled hundreds of attempts by Hamas to kill very many Israeli civilians. This was achieved, inter alia, thanks to a decision I made as Prime Minister, in my previous term, to equip the State of Israel with thousands of interceptors which, of course, blocked the murderous aerial assault by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.
The blow that Hamas has now taken is unprecedented since it was founded, a very hard blow. I must say that it also took a diplomatic hit. See, Hamas set conditions at the outset for a ceasefire. We accepted the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire, already in the first days, unconditionally and without time constraints whereas Hamas set conditions. It demanded a seaport - it did not get one. It demanded an airport, it did not get one. It demanded the release of the Shalit prisoners, those who were released in the Shalit deal whom we returned to prison following the murder of the three youths, it did not get this. It demanded Qatari mediation, it did not get it. It demanded Turkish mediation, it did not get it. It did not receive any condition. It demanded further conditions. It demanded the rehabilitation of the institutions that we dissolved in Judea and Samaria, it did not get this. It demanded salaries and money from us, it didn't get them. It did not receive any of the conditions that it set.
We agreed at the outset to one thing - to carry out the humanitarian rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, with supervisory mechanisms and oversight abilities in our hands. This is in order to prevent the entry of weapons or materials that could be used to produce weapons. We have always agreed to this but we did not agree to accept any of Hamas's conditions and the fact is that this ceasefire was achieved without the conditions that it set.
Moreover, I think that Hamas is also isolated diplomatically. We received international legitimacy from the global community. First of all, we received 50 days for very strong action against the terrorist organizations. This was substantial. I think that we also instilled in the international community the fact that Hamas, ISIS and Al Qaida and other extremist Islamic terrorist organizations are members of the same family. We also instilled the understanding that the long-term goal is the demilitarization of Hamas and the terrorist organizations, the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.
All of these are important achievements alongside the realignment of regional forces in the Middle East. The regional change of moderate forces in the Middle East is creating a possible diplomatic horizon for the State of Israel. I think that it contains within it new possibilities for our country. We will certainly try to advance these possibilities in a responsible and prudent manner as we have done up until now.
Will we achieve our goal for prolonged calm? I think it is still too early to say but I can say that the harsh blow that Hamas and the terrorist organizations have taken, as well as our ability, via border controls, to prevent their rearming increase the chances that this goal will be achieved.
I can say that Hamas was surprised by two major things. One, in recent days it was surprised by the strength of our response to the violation of the most recent ceasefire. It thought that we would give in in the end to its conditions - and we did not give in. It thought that it could wear us down. You remember that I told it that it would not wear us down but would instead be hit very hard. I would like to take this opportunity to say that if it resumes firing, we will not tolerate sporadic firing at any part of the State of Israel and how we have responded up until now - we will respond with even greater strength. We are prepared for any possibility.
The second thing that surprised Hamas, Israeli citizens, is your splendid unity. I must say that it simply did not correctly appreciate the unity and strength of the people, and it is a splendid unity. It is the unity of civilian volunteers who helped the heroic IDF soldiers by sending packages, going to every point in person, of the rescue and voluntary organizations such as Magen David Adom and the other organizations, of the kibbutz movement that hosted residents of the south, of the local council heads who also volunteered to do this, and of ordinary citizens who went from place to place including hospitals to help our wounded heroic soldiers.
Our marvelous soldiers - during our visit to an air force base today, the Defense Minister, the Chief-of-Staff and I, I told air force personnel - air and ground crews - what I say to all IDF soldiers: The entire nation owes you its deep gratitude. Your stepping up, your heroism and your dedication, all of these were decisive in the campaign and made major contributions to our present diplomatic and military achievements.
One soldier told me, on one of my visits to the south, would that this unity which gives us so much strength as we go to fight the enemy, would that this unity could continue even after the fighting is over. And I say would that it could, amen, because this is a basic part of our national resilience.
And on behalf of all of you, on behalf of this unity, I would like to send my best wishes for a quick and complete recovery to our wounded soldiers. I visited them, not all of them, but as many as I could, and I was impressed by their strength of spirit. I was impressed by the public's and their families' great love for them. Everyone of them is dear to me just as every one of our fallen soldiers is dear to me. And their families, I know their loss and the depth of their pain and sorrow, to the families this evening I say the words that we read a few weeks ago in the haftarah [from the prophet Isaiah (40:1)], 'Comfort you, comfort you, My people.' And comfort may be taken in the strong and united nation that stands here on it land, the Land of Israel, and which is determined to defend our state, the State of Israel, with your support, with your splendid unity. We acted just as we promised all through the operation - with level-headedness and responsibility, with foresight broad enough to ensure your security, citizens of Israel.
Following is Prime Minister Netanyahu's response, in English, to a question from the press:
Question: "If you could just elaborate on the diplomatic horizon for peace that you have mentioned earlier and within that vision, there the potential for the resumption of peace talks?"
Prime Minister Netanyahu: "I think that there is a realignment of forces in the Middle East. Everybody can see that. The realignment is based on the common concern with the dangers posed by radical Islamic terrorists who are sweeping the region with a ring of fire. And many understand that this is a danger to them. As we understand, it's a danger to us. And many certainly begin to view Israel less than the full, or an enemy than a potential ally in this common battle.
What I'd like to explore is to see if we can translate this understanding of our common challenges into cooperation in common opportunities, and yes including the pursuit and development and achievement of a peace between Israel and our Palestinian neighbors. This obviously cannot happen with the likes of Hamas, who are committed to our destruction. Everybody says you make peace with an enemy. That's true. But you make peace only with an enemy who decides to go to peace. That's the most important and fundamental distinction. An enemy who wants to destroy you is not a candidate for peace. An enemy who says I want to put down, I want to end the hostilities, I want to take a new beginning, make a new start, give a new future for our children and our grandchildren, well that's somebody that we can make peace with. And I hope that we'll achieve this."
Excerpt from statement by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon:
"Hamas and the other terrorist organizations were dealt a heavy blow during the last 50 days. More than a thousand terrorists were killed, including senior members of the military wing. Terrorist infrastructures were destroyed. We attacked and destroyed weapons, launchers, rockets, homes of commanders, and command and control centers. We struck at the terrorists capabilities, including terrorist tunnels prepared over the course of years. We set Hamas and other terrorist organizations back many years.
Gaza does not look like it looked on the eve of the operation, and it is no surprise that the discourse in Gaza, and within Hamas, is one of anger and frustration. We are talking about a at least ten years of restoration and rehabilitation. When the dust clears over the Gaza Strip, Hamas leaders will have to answer quite a few tough questions following the hard, unprecedented blow inflicted upon them by Israel.
I would like to emphasize, citizens of Israel - do not be impressed by the bragging of Hamas leaders, voiced just after leaving their underground bunkers, their hiding places within civilian structures - hospitals, schools and clinics - surrounded by civilians - women and children - whom they used as human shields."