Olmert cabinet 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
If Palestinians "don't sleep at night" in Gaza, they will get a feeling of what Sderot residents have been going through for weeks, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bluntly told the cabinet Sunday during a discussion of the goals of Operation Summer Rains.
Three main themes emerged during the meeting that included briefings by Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Israel's top security brass: The efforts to free Cpl. Gilad Shalit will likely take weeks if not months; Israel cannot agree to a "prisoner exchange" because this would only encourage more kidnapping attempts, and finally Israel will use the current opportunity to smash the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, weaken Hamas and try to substantially alter the strategic situation in Gaza.
Olmert said that Israel is currently waging a war on two tracks, on one against terrorism emanating from Gaza, and on the other against the firing of Kassam rockets.
"I take upon myself today the responsibility for what is happening in Gaza," an unapologetic Olmert said. "I told the IDF that I want it so that no one sleeps at night in Gaza, so that they will feel what this is like."
Referring to complaints about the situation in Gaza resulting from Israel's strike on Gaza's power station and the lack of electricity, Olmert said, "What is this wimpiness?! What is discomfort? People do not die from discomfort, but people are killed by Kassam rockets." Olmert said there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and that Israel would ensure that there would not be one.
"We have been hearing about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza for the last six months," he said. "Nobody has died because he has not received a dialysis treatment." Olmert said that Israel hit the Gaza power plant only after ascertaining that all the hospitals had generators.
Olmert said he told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Israel would change the situation where tens of thousand of Israelis are under the threat of Kassam rockets in the south, and Palestinian terrorism emanates from Gaza into Israel.
Hinting at more arrests of Hamas activists, Olmert said that he would not commit himself to saying that these arrests would only take place in the West Bank, where last week's arrests of 64 Hamas activists, including cabinet members and parliamentarians, took place.
He also reiterated, on the day Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office was hit by an IAF missile, that "nobody who is involved in terrorism will be immune." Olmert praised the mediation efforts of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whom he said was genuinely working to solve the current crisis.
But despite this praise, head of Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said that "the Egyptians are willing to mediate, but are essentially only negotiating with themselves." He said the Egyptians were trying to pressure Syria to influence Hamas's military wing, but "are not succeeding in getting their mediation attempts off the ground."
Yadlin told the cabinet that up until the end of May Hamas had refrained from direct involvement in terrorism, although they did provide Kassam rockets to other groups.
He said that on May 31 Hamas became directly involved in firing Kassam rockets, and attributed this renewed involvement with its sagging standing on the Palestinian street, due largely to its inability to pay salaries and because of the PA's decreased standing in the world. In addition, other organizations, such as Islamic Jihad, were gaining popularity because they continued to attack Israel.
As a result, Hamas stepped up its direct involvement in terrorism, he said. Nevertheless, he said Haniyeh was completely surprised by the kidnapping.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the cabinet that the central goal of Operation Summer Rains remained securing the release of Shalit "but in parallel the goal was also to bring about a significant change in the level of threat on the western Negev."
He said that the operational plan against Hamas was not new, and had been considered before, but was implemented now because of the organization's direct involvement in terrorism.
Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin said that that the kidnapping has been "a morale boost for Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees," but "has placed them in a difficult strategic situation." He said that if Israel "manages the crisis correctly, it can significantly change the strategic situation in Gaza." According to Diskin, Hamas's popularity on the Palestinian street has fallen considerably since its peak in January.
"A government that has to smuggle money in suitcases cannot function," he said, adding that the Palestinians also realized this.
Diskin said there were a growing number of warnings about kidnappings. Every successful kidnapping, he said, breeds between three to four additional attempts.
"In my opinion, we must not show any cracks in our policy of not releasing Palestinian prisoners," he said. "If we do so, it will only encourage more kidnapping attempts."
Diskin said that the crisis could take weeks or even months to solve. "No one has a magic solution," he said.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said the IDF did not believe that military action alone would free Shalit.
That being the case, he said, the IDF was engaged in the current offensive campaign because it cannot not operate against an organization that kidnaps soldiers. He said the operation was also aimed at stopping the launching of Kassam rockets that started before last Sunday's events at Kerem Shalom, and for which Hamas "never paid a price."
Livni gave the cabinet a detailed briefing on how the world reacted to last week's events, saying that while there was a good deal of understating for the IDF's actions, there was concern that this would escalate the situation and trigger a serious humanitarian crisis.
She said that the Foreign Ministry's policy has been to be as transparent as possible, explaining to the world Israel's actions and the rationale behind them. She also said that the ministry had prepared messages in the event the conflict in Gaza worsened.
Livni is scheduled to leave Monday for a two-day trip to Russia and Finland, where she will explain Israel's policies.