"We can't leave a vacuum" that could enable the coastal enclave to turn "into a terror base again," said the Israeli president.
Israel will need to maintain a significant presence in Gaza to prevent the Hamas terrorist group from regaining control of the enclave, President Isaac Herzog said in an interview with the Financial Times published on Thursday.
“If we pull back, then who will take over? We can’t leave a vacuum. We have to think about what will be the mechanism; there are many ideas that are thrown in the air,” Herzog said. “But no one will want to turn this place, Gaza, into a terror base again.”
Israeli forces have been conducting ground, air and naval operations in the Gaza Strip with the stated goal of dismantling Hamas's military and governing capabilities, in the wake of the terror group's Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel.
Herzog told the British daily business newspaper that the Israeli government has been discussing ideas about how Gaza will be managed after Hamas is defeated, indicating that the United States and "our neighbors in the region" would have some involvement.
The United States has been pushing for the Palestinian Authority to play a role in governing Gaza after Hamas, but Israeli officials have rejected the proposal due to the P.A.'s support for terrorism.
“In order to prevent terror from coming up again, we have to have a very strong force to make sure that it’s committed enough and it [the attack] doesn’t happen [again]," said Herzog.
Herzog's remarks echo those of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has stated multiple times in recent weeks that Israel will maintain security control over Gaza after defeating Hamas.
“The IDF will continue to have security control over the Gaza Strip for as long as necessary to prevent terrorism from it. The massacre on Oct. 7 proved once and for all wherever there is no Israeli security control, terrorism will return and establish itself; therefore, I will not agree to concede security control under any circumstances," Netanyahu said at a joint press conference on Nov. 11.
Netanyahu also said during the press conference that Gaza cannot be ruled by “a civil authority that educates its children to hate Israel, to kill Israelis, to eliminate the State of Israel... an authority that pays the families of murderers [amounts] based on the number they murdered... an authority whose leader still has not condemned the terrible [Oct. 7] massacre 30 days later,” referring to P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas.
During the interview with the Financial Times, Herzog also discussed the hostage situation, among other topics, blaming Hamas for the lack of an agreement on their release.
“We haven’t even received one piece of information about our hostages," he said. “So we have to fight and get them."
Herzog also touched upon efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the Strip, saying that Israel is discussing a "major effort" with Cyprus to deliver aid via the Mediterranean Sea and that Cypriot officials were visiting Israel on Thursday to follow up on the initiative.
“It’s under serious negotiations with the Cypriot government,” Herzog said.