(photo credit: ap)
On his first full day as IDF chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi sat in on a series of operational discussions with senior officers and intelligence officials Thursday, capped by the weekly security briefing at Defense Minister Amir Peretz's office at the army's headquarters in Tel Aviv.
"I would like to speak in the name of the entire forum in welcoming [Ashkenazi], and I see these meetings as a venue in which the programs and frameworks we have set will be implemented, Peretz said. "The IDF provides solutions to all its challenges. There is no doubt that this forum will do what is required so that we will be prepared for any scenario."
"We will be prepared for new challenges in the near and distant future," Peretz added. "I wish us all good luck."
Ashkenazi and Peretz were briefed by senior representatives of the IDF, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel Police on developments in the Palestinian Authority and on the northern border.
According to military sources, particular attention was paid to the ramifications of the power-sharing accord signed between Hamas and Fatah last week in Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz (Kadima), a former defense minister and army chief, said that if the Mecca agreement is to bear fruit, Hamas must agree to end its ideological and military opposition to Israel's existence, conditions set by the government and the Quartet that the Islamist organization has reiterated since the Mecca summit that it has no intention of fulfilling.
"Israel must require that the conditions of the Quartet be fulfilled, so that the 'Radical Quartet' - Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah - do not take control of the new Palestinian government," Mofaz told high school students in Rishon Lezion on Thursday morning.
With two more Kassam rockets being fired at the western Negev on Thursday, a number of Knesset members and security analysts have renewed calls for large-scale IDF operation to defang Hamas in Gaza.
Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin has said a plan for such an operation should be prepared, but that Israel would "ruin everything" if it acted now, when Palestinian factions are actively warring with one another.
The Jerusalem Post has learned from military sources that detailed plans do indeed exist for a massive and extended incursion inside the Gaza Strip designed to curb efforts by Hamas and other terrorist organizations to emulate Hizbullah's successes during the second Lebanon war.
The sources stressed that no decision had been made on such an operation, which they said would at least as large as Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, in which several reserve divisions were called up for a systematic sweep of Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank.
The sources said the IDF had an interest in addressing the threat in Gaza "sooner than later," considering the possibility of renewed fighting with Hizbullah later this year. A Gaza invasion could be feasible by spring, the sources said.
Next week, Ashkenazi is expected to carry out inspections of IDF bases and units. Reporters and junior officers at IDF headquarters were speculating Thursday as to which unit would be the first to be evaluated in one of Ashkenazi's notorious spot inspections.
Officers who have served under him said Ashkenazi became known when he was a company commander for attention to detail and equipment maintenance and, at times, loud demands for accountability from junior officers during his inspections, and that these qualities also applied to the surprise checks he made during his tenure as deputy chief of General Staff, and more recently as director-general of the Defense Ministry.
"The party is over. Now you will see our new chief of General Staff role up his sleeves and get to work," a senior military official said.
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