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There is no doubt that Israel is facing a serious dilemma. On the one hand, it is inclined to refrain from a widespread response to the Kassam rocket onslaught so as not to be lured into invading the Gaza Strip, a move that would effectively end the Fatah-Hamas bloodbath and unite the two fighting movements against their common enemy.
On the other hand, Israel is no longer an innocent bystander to the internal Palestinian fighting. The moment the rockets started slamming into Sderot and people began getting wounded, Israel became a party to the conflict and needs to begin defending its civilians. The question is how.
Two weeks after the harsh Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are more hesitant than ever about making dramatic military-diplomatic decisions. This was demonstrated at the four-hour seminar the security cabinet held on Sunday, during which it heard briefings from across the IDF spectrum but closed the session without making a single decision.
The IDF is getting tired of waiting. The Hamas military outpost in Rafah bombed by the IAF on Wednesday was one of hundreds of targets compiled in recent months during intelligence-gathering operations in the air above Gaza.
Olmert and Peretz do not want a large-scale operation in Gaza. Any response to the continued Kassam attacks will be an effort to slightly impair Hamas's ability to perpetrate attacks, as well as demonstrate to the public that there is a government after Winograd and that it is doing something.
The pinpoint operations approved during the security assessment at Olmert's office Wednesday afternoon will not succeed in stopping the Kassam rockets. At the most, Israel can hope they will make it more difficult for terrorists to reach their launch pads in northern Gaza.
There is a concern within the defense establishment that the operations will not even succeed in achieving that goal, and that recent upgrades made to the Kassams to increase their range allow terrorists to launch them from deeper inside densely populated Gaza - areas the IDF will hesitate to bomb.
But no one in Gaza really has anything to gain from the continued Kassam attacks or the infighting between Hamas and Fatah. Israel is now upping its response, which means that IAF air strikes will once again become a daily routine for Gaza residents.
Fatah has already begun crying out for help to the Europeans and has asked for funding it claims is desperately needed to counter the Hamas enemy. This could quickly turn into a request by the United States to speed up the transfer of weapons to the Presidential Guards - the force most loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has clearly chosen sides in the conflict. By talking to Abbas and not talking to Hamas's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Israel has made it clear whom it sides with.
The question of real and practical support is only now coming up. Tuesday night Israel allowed 450 Fatah soldiers training in Egypt to cross back into Gaza to fight Hamas. A request by the US to supply weapons to the Presidential Guards is already on the table in the form of the Benchmarks plan recently presented to Israel and drafted by US Ambassador Richard Jones and US Security Coordinator Gen. Keith Dayton.
If a new request about the arms arrives, Olmert will again have to decide how involved he wants to become in the Hamas-Fatah bloodbath.
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