Benyamin Netanyahu, widely tipped to become Israel’s prime minister after elections next week, has vowed to topple the Hamas movement in Gaza, calling the Palestinian group an "Iranian proxy".
Addressing the annual Herzliya security conference on Wednesday, Netanyahu said: "In the end of the day there will be no choice but to remove the Iranian threat in Gaza.
"There will be no escape from toppling the Hamas regime which is the Iranian proxy in the Gaza Strip," he said. "This is the real threat we are facing.
"If I’m elected, the biggest, most important task of my government will be to fend off the Iranian threat in all aspects," he said.
"It will oblige us to work on all fronts, including harnessing the US administration to stop the threat."
The 59-year-old leader of the Likud party, which is expected to have the most seats in the 120-member parliament after next Tuesday’s vote, said the divided Palestinians were too weak for a peace deal.
"Palestinian society is deeply divided… They are not strong enough to accept minimal concessions for a peace deal and are not strong enough to fight terror," he said.
"The reality is very clear – any territory we evacuate today will be taken over by Iran," he said, alluding to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which he opposed.
Netanyahu vowed to form a unity government if he wins the elections.
"If elected, I intend to unite all central powers in the country in a national unity government," he said.
"I will turn to our natural allies, but that is not enough. We must unite the entire nation and I will turn to all Zionist parties because, in the face of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, the social and economic challenges, we will have to stand together."