‘More of the same’ expected in Gaza
The IDF will continue to carry out operations in the Gaza Strip, some on a larger scale than those conducted so far, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Wednesday after the security cabinet convened to discuss the situation in Gaza and the growing threat Kassam rockets pose to southern Israel.
Ministers participating in the meeting said the ideas raised in the meeting were “more of the same,” Israel Radio reported.
The security cabinet instructed the IDF to draw up plans for a large-scale operation in Gaza and present it for approval at a future date.
“If a rocket falls in a school or a residential neighborhood, we have to respond in kind,” he said.
Fearing a further escalation in Kassam rocket fire, the defense establishment has begun putting the finishing touches on plans to launch a massive Defensive Shield-like operation into the Gaza Strip.
Doubtful that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will succeed in convincing terror factions to accept a cease-fire, defense officials are seriously considering reoccupying the Gaza Strip in an effort to stop Kassam rocket attacks. “We are not left with many options,” a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “What we know can work at stopping the Kassams is a major operation and the reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.”
The plans that have been drawn up for the major operation in the Gaza Strip include the calling up of reserve units, as well as the possibility of implementing military rule of law in the Palestinian territory.
Before the meeting, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said the two main issues on the agenda would be the firing of Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip and the arms smuggling and buildup of terrorist infrastructure inside the region.
While Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres have come out in recent days against a widespread military action in Gaza, other voices in the security cabinet – foremost those of ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Avi Dichter – have called for more aggressive action.
At Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, the ministers also heard assessments of the affect of Tuesday’s assassination in Beirut of Pierre Gemayel on Lebanon and Syria.
Olmert, in the wake of the assassination, spoke Tuesday with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and expressed his hope that the assassination would not destabilize the region. Olmert’s office announced that he would meet Prodi in Rome on December 13.
Olmert told Prodi that “there is progress in contacts” with Abbas, and that European initiatives – such as the one that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Spain, France and Italy would sponsor – only made things more difficult.
Regarding the contacts with Abbas, Olmert’s chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and his foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman was scheduled to meet Wednesday with Abbas confidants Sa’eb Erekat and Rafik Husseini.
The meeting comes three days after Peretz infuriated Olmert and set off a political maelstrom by independently talking with Abbas about a cease-fire. Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday’s talks between the Israeli and Palestinian officials would likely focus on trying to set up a meeting between Olmert and Abbas.
While Olmert has said he was interested in meeting Abbas at the earliest opportunity, his office said Abbas was conditioning such a meeting on the release of Palestinian prisoners, something Olmert has made clear would not be done until kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit was released. While a possible cease-fire was also likely to be discussed, there is a great deal of skepticism in the security establishment about whether Abbas can impose a cease-fire.
Turbowicz and Turgeman have met Husseini and Erekat a number of times in the past, and Olmert and Abbas’s offices continue to maintain regular contact.