(photo credit: AP)
Although Israeli human rights organizations, along with other local groups and individuals, have called for Operation Cast Lead to be halted, President Shimon Peres on Wednesday declared national solidarity behind the military operation to be Israel's finest hour.
Speaking to an American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) mission at Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem, Peres insisted that the people had never been so united, and that there had never been such a mood of sacrifice and solidarity between the country's religious and secular elements as there is today.
"For me, this is very moving," he said. "This is the best generation that Israel has ever had."
Peres, who has been paying condolence calls to the families of fallen soldiers and visiting the wounded in hospitals, said that he had heard no complaints, even from the families whose loved ones had been killed by friendly fire.
Referring to the way Operation Cast Lead has been conducted, Peres said: "The army has never been as well trained or as well prepared as this time," making a tacit contrast to ill-preparedness of the forces that fought in the Second Lebanon War.
Implementation of the current operation had gone 90 percent according to plan, he said, including the planning and training of ground forces.
As he has in nearly all his meetings with foreign visitors, Peres blamed Hamas for the deaths of more than 900 Palestinians in Gaza. If Hamas had not been firing rockets at populated Israeli areas, Israel would not have caused a single one of the casualties, Peres said, adding that Israel did not have a choice.
After professing an inability to understand why Hamas chose to consistently fire at Israel after Israel had forced its settlers to leave Gaza and allowed the passages to remain open, Peres cited evidence that would suggest that Hamas has no real interest in the welfare of the Palestinian people.
A lot of money had been spent on building hothouses and greenhouses in the settlements, he noted. When people were evacuated from these settlements the hothouses and greenhouses were left intact, but Hamas destroyed them.
Conscious that the IDF has been roundly criticized abroad for firing on a school, Peres observed that it was against international law to use an educational facility as a launching pad for rockets.
Hamas had violated both the Oslo Accords and conditions laid down in the Road Map said Peres. The "State of Palestine," he said, was supposed to be demilitarized.
While many note that Hamas was democratically elected, Peres contended that "democracy is not just the outcome of elections. Democracy is a system that respects laws."
Mahmoud Abbas, he reminded his audience, had received 62% of the vote, which made him the legitimate leader of all the Palestinian people. But Hamas revolted against him and killed many members of Fatah, brutally dropping them from the tops of buildings.
"I don't think they respect anything," said Peres.
Gratified by Egypt's attitude to Hamas, Peres underscored that "this is the first time that an Arab country stands clearly and loudly against them."
Peres had no quarrel with those television networks broadcasting difficult images from Gaza.
"I don't blame the TV," he said, noting that it was natural for television camera crews to focus on such scenes.
He even understood that coverage could not be balanced, "because TV cannot show what it means for one million Israelis to be constantly nervous. We cannot show the daily tensions on TV."
Israel's aim, he said, was to provide a strong blow to the people of Gaza so that they would lose their appetite for shooting at Israel.
The other aim was to prevent an Iranian takeover of Gaza and Iranian weapons from entering Gaza. He supported the idea of food being sent from Iran to Gaza, but not rockets or explosives.
"We have to stop the smuggling of arms, but someone else has to stop the provision of arms," he said.
Most Arab states are even more worried than Israel about Iran, Peres asserted, because they don't want to be governed by Iran.
Getting back to civilian suffering in Gaza, Peres said, "it gives us no pleasure to see people suffering."
Countering charges that Israel has denied civilians in Gaza medical treatment and humanitarian aid, Peres said that the Peres Peace Center, before and during the current crisis, has facilitated the admission of 5,000 Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals.