ashkenazi flag 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Even as the country was awaiting the Winograd Committee's report into why ground troops were not introduced into Lebanon last summer, chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi indicated at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that there may be no choice but to put IDF boots on the ground to stop attacks from Gaza.
After telling the cabinet that the military buildup of Hamas was continuing, and that Hamas had also begun active involvement in attacks against Israel, Ashkenazi said that if this situation continued "there would be no choice but to stop it, as the prime minister has said."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is expected to be criticized by the Winograd Committee Monday over his handling of the summer's Second Lebanon War, said at the opening of the meeting that while Israel was not interested in an escalation with the Palestinians, "we will not in any way be prevented from taking the necessary steps to stop those who are trying to harm Israeli citizens in the South."
During the meeting, Olmert said that one question that needed to be asked regarding a possible incursion into Gaza was what would happen the minute the IDF pulled out. He said that Israel needed to work intensively with the international community and Egypt in an effort to stop Hamas's military buildup before taking military action.
The Winograd Committee, according to cabinet sources, did not come up during the meeting.
Ashkenazi drew parallels between the ways to quiet the Katyushas in southern Lebanon and the most effective way to stop Kassam fire from Gaza.
Regarding Lebanon, Ashkenazi said that air power could reduce the number of Katyushas, but could not silence them. "The only way to do this is through ground operations," he said. And just as halting Katyusha fire necessitated ground operations, the only way to stop the Kassam rocket fire would be through ground operations, he said.
At the same time, Ashkenazi said a permanent presence in Gaza - with IDF outposts and pillboxes - was not the answer, since these would then only become targets. He reminded the ministers that there were frequent attacks on Israel from Gaza even when the IDF was well ensconced inside the Gaza Strip.
Ashkenazi said that it was difficult to call the situation that had existed in Gaza over the last five months a truce, as Hamas called it, since there have been some 250 firings of rockets and mortars on Israel, and in addition there have been numerous attempts to infiltrate into Israel, fire on soldiers and set roadside bombs.
He said that on Independence Day last week the Palestinians fired 35 mortars and seven Kassam rockets. Up until about five weeks ago Islamic Jihad was behind most of the attacks, but since then Hamas had taken an active and public role as well, he said. Two Kassam rockets were fired from Gaza Sunday night and fell inside Israel, but caused no damage.
Regarding Lebanon, Ashkenazi said that Hizbullah was only one government minister away from being able to veto the moves of the Lebanese government, something that was significant since the government would be called upon in the near future to renew the mandate of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon.
Ashkenazi said that Hizbullah was trying to move forces south of the Litani River, and was having better luck penetrating cities in the area, rather than open spaces where UNIFIL forces blocked their penetration.
While praising the coordination that exists between Israel and UNIFIL, Ashkenazi bewailed the continued smuggling of arms across the Lebanese-Syrian border, and said that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora was not powerful enough to send an effective monitoring force to the long border.
Ashkenazi said that Syria was continuing to upgrade its forces on its border with Israel, but that Israel had no information of a planned preemptive strike by Damascus. He reiterated the assessment that this buildup of forces was of a defensive nature.