Israel is not currently interested in launching an Operation Cast Lead-like offensive in the Gaza Strip and will positively consider requests by Egypt to permit the deployment of additional military forces in Sinai Peninsula, head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic-security bureau Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Gilad, Israel’s point man when it comes to defense ties with Egypt, denied reports that a crisis was brewing between Jerusalem and Cairo. He said that reports regarding an Egyptian decision to recall its ambassador to Israel were not true and that ties between the countries were still strong.

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“There is no crisis and the ties are strong,” Gilad told the Post. “All the rumors about the recalling of ambassadors are not true. The Israeli ambassador is in Cairo and the Egyptian ambassador is in Tel Aviv.”

He said that Israel was currently not interested in a large-scale operation in Gaza.

“We do not have a desire right now to enter into something like an Operation Cast Lead II, which would have extensive consequences,” Gilad said. “At the same time though, we are extremely determined to protect Israel and its citizens and that is what we are doing.”

Gilad said that Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s expression of regret for the deaths of a number of Egyptian policemen by the IDF as it returned fire at terrorists in Sinai on Thursday, was natural considering Israel’s close relationship with Egypt.

“We expressed regret because if an ally of ours claims that we killed policemen then we know how to express regret,” Gilad said. “We are now conducting a joint investigation together with the Egyptians regarding what happened, but one thing is already clear – the IDF does not intentionally open fire at Egyptian security officers.”

According to reports in the Arab press, Gilad has visited Cairo a number of times in recent months and was involved in talks with the military there ahead of “Operation Eagle” which Egypt launched last week in an effort to restore order to Sinai. The operation included the insertion of 1,000 soldiers and hundreds of armored personnel carriers to the peninsula.

Gilad refused to confirm that he had been to Egypt but said that the operation was unprecedented and would ultimately be judged by its outcome. He said that Israel was seeking a stronger effort by the Egyptians to stop the flow of Iranian arms through Sinai into the Gaza Strip, which he called “Hamastan.”

“The Egyptians are making an unprecedented effort to deal with the problems they face in the Sinai and they are doing this out of their own interest since there are elements there that are challenging the regime’s authority,” he said. “The question will ultimately depend on the extent of the operation, its depth and what the results will be.”

Asked if Israel would be willing to allow the deployment of additional military forces into Sinai if asked by the Egyptians, Gilad said it would depend on the request and the circumstances. He said that Israel’s peace with Egypt was of supreme strategic value for Israel as well as for the future stability of the entire Middle East.

Under the Camp David Accords, Sinai is demilitarized and any deployment needs to be approved by Israel.

“It is important to safeguard the peace treaty, but every request will be reviewed based on the assessments at the time and the situation on the ground while ensuring that the peace treaty is retained,” Gilad said.

Regarding the attacks near Eilat on Thursday and the over 100 rockets that have been fired into Israel since, Gilad said Israel held Hamas responsible for the attacks. He said that while Iran was not playing an active role in the recent conflict its involvement was obvious.

“Iran is not involved on a daily basis in the attacks but the Iranians are the ones who supply the weaponry, the technology and the know-how,” he said. “They are giving Hamas and other organizations the ability to hit Tel Aviv from the South like they have given Hezbollah the ability in the North.”

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