NEW DELHI, India — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel was systematically destroying all the Hamas and Islamic Jihad attack tunnels from Gaza so that the terror groups “should not mess with us.”
Netanyahu, who is on the first day of a state visit to India, was speaking ahead of a meting with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and a day after the Israel Air Force bombed another tunnel along the border with southern Gaza.
While thanking her for the warm welcome to the country, Netanyahu switched from English to Hebrew to address the Israeli public.
“When I am here in India I think of you, IDF soldiers, for the splendid work that you did yesterday, when you destroyed another tunnel,” he said. “We are systematically destroying the foundations of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad tunnels, so they will not mess with us.”
On Sunday morning, the Israel Defense Forces announced it had destroyed a border-crossing Hamas attack tunnel, the third in recent months, that penetrated hundreds of meters into both Israeli and Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip, in an airstrike on Saturday night.
Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters on Sunday that the tunnel belonged to the Hamas terrorist group, which rules the Strip.
The prime minister also spoke in Hebrew about the importance of his visit to India, one of the world’s biggest economies, and the close ties between the countries “in economy, business, security, agriculture and many other areas.”
In English, Netanyahu spoke enthusiastically of his evident joy at being in the country. “It is a true honor and a true delight,” he said. “It’s a dream come true. I say our partnership is a match made in heaven and consecrated on earth.”
He added that the connection was not only at the political level, but also a connection between the peoples of the two countries.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm not only at our level, at the level of government and leaders, but also in the people. It is heartwarming,” he said. “I want to say how delighted I am to be here in India.”
Netanyahu’s five-day trip to India will see him attempt to expand business ties with the subcontinent, though it comes amid a cloud of uncertainty after Delhi canceled a $500 million deal with Israeli arms maker Rafael late last year. Last week, however, an Indian news agency reported that Delhi was considering the possibility of reviving the missile deal with Rafael.
Accompanied by his wife, Sara, Netanyahu is leading a 130-strong trade delegation — the largest ever for an Israeli prime minister — to India meant to boost bilateral business ties, as well as diplomatic relations.
Over the course of the visit, Israel and India will sign a series of bilateral agreements.
Netanyahu’s visit is the first by an Israeli prime minister since 2003, when Ariel Sharon visited, but abruptly cut his trip short to return to Israel after a terrorist attack.
In contrast with prime ministerial visits to the US or Europe, Netanyahu’s trip, which will take him to three cities in India, will focus very little on Middle Eastern affairs such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. India recently backed a UN General Assembly motion condemning US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, throwing some cold water on hopes for a closer diplomatic relationship.