Israel had full international backing for the raid on the Jericho jail and the arrest of PFLP leader Ahmed Saadat, the organizer of the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday.
"Nobody came with a complaint. Nobody put pressure on us. They didn't demand anything. Everybody blamed the Palestinian Authority," Olmert said. He was speaking during a visit to National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem, where he met with Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi and other senior officers.
The police's elite counterterror unit, known by the Hebrew acronym Yamam, led the operation Tuesday after the US and UK pulled out their inspectors monitoring the incarceration of Saadat and four other men involved in Ze'evi's murder.
"I refer you to the statement made by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the State Department that all responsibility for the decision made by the US and the British governments to pull the inspectors from the jail, and thus to make the Israeli operation inevitable, lies on the shoulders of the Palestinian Authority," Olmert said. "It [the PA] didn't make the most elementary attempt to maintain control of the jail and to provide security to the foreign inspectors," he said.
The raid was inevitable because Israel couldn't allow the suspects to go free, Olmert said.
"It must be clear that while the Israeli government was reluctant to enter into any military operation, at the same time Israel will never allow any terrorist who deliberately killed... a senior government minister to get away without us responding," he said.
Olmert said that although Ze'evi had been a political rival with whom he had never agreed, the operation was more than just about catching terrorists.
"The people of Israel returned your [Ze'evi's] honor yesterday with the action that we took," Olmert said.
"From the first moment, I told the chief of staff and the defense minister that there was no problem with time. The operation should continue as long as necessary," Olmert said. "I demanded... that not a single Israeli soldier or policeman should be scratched," he said. "I didn't want Israeli blood to be spilled."
Olmert said he ordered the security forces to avoid any unnecessary attacks on Palestinians not on Israel's wanted list. "We are not at war with every Palestinian citizen and we are not at war with every Palestinian policeman," he said. "We are at war with murderers."
Olmert left the door open for the resumption of peace talks.
"We are prepared to make compromises and to establish a process of negotiations with a credible Palestinian Authority that is willing to accept the road map and the basic principles outlined by the Quartet," he said.
"We hope the Palestinian Authority will take the necessary steps to impose discipline, disarm the terrorists and recognize the State of Israel's right to exist. If that will be the case then the foundations will be laid for further negotiations between us and the Palestinians," he said.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu convened security officials on Wednesday and discussed how the party should respond to the Jericho raid. Former defense minister Moshe Arens, former generals Dan Shomron and Ya'acov Amidror and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz participated in the meeting.
Following the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that the Likud would continue to warn the public that Olmert's policies were dangerous and strategically flawed.
"One successful military maneuver doesn't change the fact that Olmert wants to give up all the land and endanger the country," Netanyahu said. "The voters will have to ask themselves whether they are ready for such a significant withdrawal without receiving anything in return - knowing full well that the land will go to Hamas - or whether they prefer an uncompromising struggle against Hamas."
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.â€¢