Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week gave “private assurances” to U.S. President Barack Obama that the Jewish state was not planning a ground invasion of Gaza, the Daily Beast reported early Sunday, quoting officials.
The report said Netanyahu told Obama on Friday that Israel was not considering a full-scale invasion, unless Hamas escalates rocket fire.
Netanyahu has not set a date for such an invasion, nor are the other kinds of contingency plans Israel would need in such a circumstance in place, the unnamed officials quoted by The Daily Beast said.
But the report came as Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel is ready to "significantly expand" its operation against militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip as it entered its fifth day.
"The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. "The soldiers are ready for any activity that could take place."
“The Israeli leadership at this point is leaning against a ground invasion. No one wants that. If Hamas ratchets up the pressure, however, they may elect to do so,” a senior U.S. official, who was briefed on the conversation between Netanyahu and Obama, told the news site.
The discussions between both leaders are “different than their discussions on Iran,” an American intelligence official said, adding that Netanyahu has previously declined to give Obama assurances that Israel would not unilaterally strike Iran’s nuclear installations, according to the report.
But Israel’s ambassador to Washington said the prospect of an invasion had not been ruled out, mirroring what the Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman Avital Leibovich recently told The Telegraph, “Morale is high. We are currently training and preparing for ground possibilities.”
The ambassador to Washington Michael Oren, did not comment on Netanyahu’s call with Obama, but told The Daily Beast: “If they keep shooting at 5.5 million Israelis at the current rate we will have no choice but to use all necessary and legitimate means to defend our citizens and that includes possible ground action.”
Israel has launched a massive air campaign on Gaza since Wednesday, with the declared goal of deterring Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Strip, from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years.
On the ground, an al-Qassam military wing spokesman said on Saturday that Hamas had launched more than 900 rockets on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in addition to downing an Israeli navel and a drone, reported Al Arabiya.