philadelphi tunnel 248 88.
(photo credit: IDF)
Israeli diplomatic efforts are now focused on changing the clause in the peace initiative drawn up by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak relating to a mechanism to stop the arms smuggling from Sinai into Gaza.
Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, who was in Cairo last week, will return to Egypt on Monday for talks expected to be decisive for the future of Operation Cast Lead, now in its third week.
Speaking on Israel Radio on Sunday morning, Gilad stressed that Israel was not threatening Egypt in any way, and that an international force located on the Egyptian border to prevent arms smuggling into the Strip would not only be inefficient but would also undermine the Egyptians' sovereignty.
Gilad was responding to Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit's statements from Saturday night, according to which Egypt was not aiding Hamas smuggle arms into the Strip, ascertaining that most of the arms were smuggled via the sea, and not through the Egyptian Rafah crossing. Aboul Gheit also spoke out against the possible stationing of an international force on its border.
"When the Egyptian foreign minister speaks, he is responding to headlines or accusations. Egypt is an important state, not only from the smuggling perspective, but also as a leading country in the Arab world," said Gilad.
Gilad continued to stress the futility of an international force on the Egyptian border instead of an Egyptian presence.
"International forces in Egypt would be perceived as undermining their sovereignty and beyond that, they don't work, look at the situation in Lebanon," Gilad said, adding that such forces "lack intelligence and the ability to act against arms smugglers, while Egypt has excellent security forces and military that can prevent smuggling. No one can compete with their forces. What could a Dutchman, for example, do in the region? How would he operate there? How would he stop the smuggling?"
Gilad stressed the importance of continued talks with Egypt at the same time that the operation in Gaza continues.
"We need to conduct talks with them, and [we] are doing that. The talks need to be practical and we must avoid public confrontations," he said.
"Israel is acting on two separate fronts. One is to ensure security, and the other to reach international cooperation [on preventing the smuggling and Hamas gaining force]."
"We are not threatening the Egyptians, we at not at war with them... nor are we stipulating the continuation of the operation on the progress of talks with the Egyptians," Gilad told Israel Radio.
Meanwhile, the feeling in Jerusalem is that improvements in the Egyptian truce plan could lead to Israeli acceptance of a cease-fire. If there is no movement on stopping weapons smuggling, authorizing phase 3 of the military campaign may be just a matter of time.
As the contacts on the Egyptian initiative are ongoing, Israel is showing as much flexibility as possible in the hope that a compromise can be reached that is acceptable to all the parties, primarily Israel and Egypt, said Israeli officials, stressing that Jerusalem was always willing to hear new ideas.
Diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post that if Israel were convinced that a workable mechanism was in place, there was no reason why the military campaign could not be wound down immediately.
Israeli sources noted that for years people had been talking about stopping the smuggling, but the fact was that it continued. There was now greater understanding of the cardinal importance of the issue, and Israel and Egypt had a joint interest in the creation of an effective arrangement, they said.
Cairo has been reluctant to agree to the stationing of foreign troops on Egyptian soil, arguing that with extra funds and technical assistance, the Egyptian security forces can get the job done.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who held talks in Egypt yesterday, is due to meet Sunday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
On Monday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos is due in the region to join the diplomatic push to end the violence. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer also visits Israel this week.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon phoned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday to express disappointment with Israel's rejection of Security Council Resolution 1860, adopted early Friday morning Israel time, which calls for an immediate cease-fire.
Noting with concern that the violence was continuing, Ban said the council had clearly said what should happen, and the parties should comply. Resolution 1860 was adopted in a 14-0 vote, with the US abstaining.
The motion calls for an immediate, durable, and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full IDF withdrawal from Gaza.
It also cites the need to open the border crossings and to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
The security cabinet convened at noon on Friday and reject the UN resolution, ordering the IDF to continue with the campaign.
If the ministers had been looking for an excuse not to implement the security council truce call, the Hamas rocket attacks throughout Friday morning, combined with the terrorist organization's decision to reject the cease-fire resolution, provided a perfect justification.
Noting the ongoing rocket attacks, a statement from the Prime Minister's Office stressed that "the State of Israel has the right to defend its citizens, and, to this end, the IDF will continue acting in order to attain the goals of the operation, in changing the security situation in southern Israel, in accordance with the plans that were approved at the beginning of the operation."
The prime minister said the rocket attacks Friday morning proved that "UN Security Council Resolution 1860 is not practical and will not be honored by the Palestinian murder organizations."
Israel had never agreed that an outside body would determine Israel's right to defend the security of its citizens, the prime minister said.