‘Israel will not enter Gaza if rockets stop’

Large scale military action at this time could severely damage ties with Egypt, divert attention from the situation in Syria.

By
August 23, 2011 01:53
4 minute read.
IDF soldiers at Syrian border on Naksa Day

IDF soldiers at Syrian border Naksa Day 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Israel has not entered a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, and will continue to take action to thwart any terrorist action, be it the firing of rockets or attempts to infiltrate Israel coming from the Gaza Strip, a senior diplomatic official said Monday as a drizzle of rocket fire on southern Israel continued throughout the day.

At the same time the official said if there were quiet from the other side, Israel would not initiate a major military action inside Gaza. This decision, he explained, was motivated by a number of factors, including the situation in Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the number of Iron Dome batteries Israel could deploy.

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Government officials said throughout the day that Israel was concerned that a large scale military action at this time could severely damage ties with Egypt, which is currently in transition; could divert attention from the situation in Syria; and might not be wise until Israel has more Iron Dome batteries deployed in the South – it currently has two – to defend larger swaths of the population from the missiles that would inevitably rain down in the area in the event of a wider military action.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened a highlevel security and diplomatic consultation that extended to 3 a.m. on Monday, where the decision to act to thwart terrorist acts, but not initiate a major military action, was taken.

According to the senior official, while Israel was ready for a war, it did not want to be dragged into it at a time not of its own choosing. He said that wider considerations needed to be taken into account, including relations with Egypt and the US.

The official said Israel spurned offers by the UN, US and Europeans to hammer out a cease-fire with Hamas, and that in the end Hamas unilaterally declared a cease-fire.

“We didn’t promise anything to anybody, and have no obligation to anyone,” he said.

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Netanyahu, meanwhile, indirectly tied the events in the South to Iran, telling a visiting delegation of 25 Republican congressmen that “those who fire missiles at Israel are supported by Iran with weapons, money and training. They constitute a forward Iranian post on our borders. Just as Iran threatens us, so too it threatens the US.”

Netanyahu thanked the delegation for the Iron Dome batteries, saying a third one would be operational in the near future.

On Monday, Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations, including the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which carried out last week’s attacks near Eilat, announced they were implementing a cease-fire. Still, a number of rockets hit the western Negev and just south of Ashkelon.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would wait to see how the situation developed before responding.

“We will wait and see since we need to look at the whole picture,” Barak told Channel 2, claiming the cross-border attacks last Thursday were an attempt to “ruin Israel’s relationship with Egypt.”

Rocket fire Monday night that fell near Ashkelon came just hours after Taher a-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, said the factions in the Gaza Strip and Hamas were stopping their attacks against Israel. Over 150 rockets and mortars have struck Israel since last Thursday.

The PRC, which initially distanced itself from the cease-fire, also said it would adhere to the declaration if Israel stopped its attacks in exchange.

“We will temporarily stop firing rockets for the sake of our Palestinian people,” the terrorist group said in a statement posted on its website, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.

IDF sources said that while Israel was currently holding its fire, it would continue operating to thwart terror attacks that are in motion, such as rocket squads that are spotted preparing to fire into Israel or terrorists on whom Israel has intelligence and those planning attacks similar to the ones carried out last Thursday near Eilat.

“We will continue to thwart and prevent attacks when we can,” one IDF source said.

Meanwhile, there was some frustration within the defense establishment over Israel’s decision to refrain from launching a larger operation against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.

A senior officer in the reserves said: “While Israel got hit by 150 rockets, all we have to show is a list of 12 dead terrorists.”

One official said the damage inflicted on Gaza was not sufficient.

“It is not clear that we have caused enough damage on the other side that will make them think twice before attacking again in the future,” the official said.

“I am not sure that our deterrence has been significantly strengthened.”

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