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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amid calls by some cabinet ministers to take over the border between Gaza and Egypt to stop rampant arms smuggling there, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said at Sunday's cabinet meeting that Israel had no intention of re-occupying Gaza, but was committed to acting to prevent attacks.
"We cannot let Gaza turn into a second Lebanon," Peretz said. "We will operate wherever it is necessary."
IDF officials: Full-scale Gaza op needed
Last week the IDF sent troops back to the border area, known as the Philadelphi Corridor, to destroy tunnels that according to various intelligence estimates are being used to smuggle increasingly sophisticated weaponry - including anti-tank and even anti-aircraft missiles - into Gaza.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to convene a meeting of the security cabinet either this week or early next week to discuss the issue.
Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) told reporters before the cabinet meeting that even before Israel left the Philadelphi Corridor last year he said that area was "an opening to hell." He said that Israel needed to find a way to reassert control over the corridor.
Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan (Gil) said that Gaza "was a problem," and that while he did not think it was necessary to re-occupy the entire Gaza Strip, "we need to sit on the Philadelphi Corridor for a long period of time."
Eitan said that Egypt needed to cooperate with Israel on the border, whether Israel was in control of the corridor or not. And if the Egyptians did not cooperate, he said, "we need to think several times about whether to remain on the Philadelphi Corridor or not."
Olmert, meanwhile, briefed the ministers on his recent visit to Russia, and said that despite Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comments over the weekend that the international community's demands on Hamas were "unrealistic," in the final analysis Russian President Vladimir Putin determines Moscow's policy, and Putin made no mention at all in their four hour meeting of an interest in softening the Quartet's stance on Hamas.
Olmert said Putin acknowledged that Hamas' positions were blocking Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and he did not have any complaints against Israel on this matter.
Regarding Russian made weaponry, including deadly anti-tank weapons that found their way into Hizbullah's arsenals, Olmert said that he was told that the Russians looked into the matter and determined that this was weaponry the Syrian army left behind when they withdrew from Lebanon in 2005.
Olmert said that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said during their meeting that Israel could not blame Russia on this score, since an Israeli anti-tank missile, the Gil, was also found in Hizbullah's hands. But it was made clear to Ivanov that this was not serious, and that Hizbullah somehow was able to capture only one of these Israeli weapons systems.
Olmert quoted Putin as saying that he did not feel comfortable with the Russian weapons in Hizbullah's hands, and that the Russians instituted new guidelines to control the transfer of weapons, including the right of Russian inspectors to carry out spot checks any time they wished to ensure that the arms were not being transferred from Syria to other regional actors.