Olmert barak south 248 88.
(photo credit: GPO)
With the days ticking down to the end of the Olmert government, tensions again surfaced in Sunday's cabinet meeting over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent decision to condition Egyptian-mediated truce negotiations with Hamas and the opening of the Gaza Strip crossings on the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
OC Military Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, during a briefing to the cabinet on the situation in the South, said that Hamas's current willingness to compromise more than it had in the past was evidence that Israel's deterrence had been restored.
When he said that Egypt, with Israel's acquiescence, had been talking to Hamas to get them to be more flexible, Olmert interrupted him and said that as far as he was concerned, there had never been any talk of an arrangement with Hamas. Israel would not enter into an arrangement with Hamas, he said.
After Yadlin finished his briefing, Barak said there were indeed elements of a cease-fire arrangement evolving, dealing with stopping arms smuggling and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza.
"All the country's wars ended with some kind of arrangement," he said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was opposed throughout Operation Cast Lead to reaching any tacit agreement with Hamas via the Egyptians, believing that Israel's deterrence would ensure quiet in the South, took issue with Barak and said that Operation Defensive Shield had also ended without an agreement.
Barak said the Gaza operation had been a success, but that the country would be in a different position right now had Israel been willing to continue talking about an agreement through the Egyptians.
Olmert then contradicted Barak, saying he knew very well there were no talks about an arrangement, because while Barak wanted such talks, Livni objected.
Olmert said he also objected, wanting first to secure Schalit's release, and then only afterward take steps that could lead to "normal life on the other side."
Olmert said that unlike the cease-fire agreement Barak negotiated through Egyptian mediation in July 2008, which the prime minister said was very vague, he wanted to ensure that this time Israel's conditions - first and foremost the release of Schalit - would take place before any cease-fire was agreed upon.
Olmert said the Barak-led cease-fire in July 2008 had succeeded in gaining Israel international support for embarking on Operation Cast Lead as a result of the restraint Israel showed in the face of Hamas's violations of the agreement.
Yadlin also told the cabinet that rockets being fired on Israel in recent days were not being fired by Hamas, which is afraid to do so. He said Hamas was keen on reaching an agreement so it could open the border crossings and begin the reconstruction of Gaza.
Regarding the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks, Yadlin said that the gaps between both parties were wide, but that they were both intent on setting up a "government of technocrats" that would deal with the reconstruction of Gaza and with the Palestinian Authority elections.
Turning to the situation in the North, Yadlin said Hizbullah had been effectively deterred from acting against Israel, and that the global financial crisis had made it difficult for the organization to fund both arms smuggling and its campaign in the upcoming Lebanese elections.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told the cabinet that in the past few days, anti-aircraft missiles had been smuggled into Gaza.
"The transfer of arms from Egypt to Gaza is continuing," he said. "Hamas is restocking its supplies and upgrading its caches of weapons and ammunition."
"The effect of [Operation] Cast Lead has melted away in the last month," Dichter said. "Attempts to carry out terror attacks from Gaza are continuing on a daily basis, and on average, five rockets and mortar shells are fired per day."
Dichter criticized Egypt, saying it was not proving effective in stopping the arms smuggling.
"The notion that Egypt has toughened its stance is not being realized on the ground," he said. "Israel needs to examine the results, and when we look at Hamas's preparedness for a new round of fighting, the results are problematic."