Barak: Hamas is extremely anxious

Defense minister tells FADC Gaza blockade bearing fruit, says chances of Syria deal this year slim.

idf gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
idf gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday described the successes of the recent counter-terror operations in the Gaza Strip. "Over 70 terrorists have been killed in Gaza over the last two months, and 300 in the last half a year," he told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "Hamas is extremely anxious and the most effective cause of this anxiety is the blockade," he continued. "We are clearly on a collision course with Hamas. Therefore, a few months ago, I instructed the defense establishment to prepare operations for various scenarios and the Security Cabinet was given an assessment on the expected achievements and timetables." Barak said that the Egyptians were major players in the process. "They are prepared to kick-start a process of calm, the first stage of which is a complete cessation of terror activity," he said, emphasizing that developments on the Gaza front would remain separate from those in the West Bank. The defense minister said Israel was not prepared to reach a period of calm if it would allow Hamas to regroup and rearm. He also stressed that Egypt was committed to stopping weapons smuggling and that if a truce is reached with Hamas, the Egyptians expected Israel to make several humanitarian easements for Gazans. Barak added that as per Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas's request, Israel was not conducting any negotiations with Hamas. Regarding West Bank roadblocks, Barak reportedly said that although Israel was considering removing further roadblocks, "we have done most of what we can do." "If a Palestinian day is not 24 hours long, but 23 hours and 20 minutes long because of the roadblocks, then that is the price to be paid for Israeli security, and the blame lies with Palestinian terrorism," he was quoted as telling the FADC members. Those remarks were relayed by a meeting participant who spoke on condition of anonymity because that part of the meeting was closed. Regarding diplomatic negotiations with Syria, the defense minister said that at this stage, talks were being conducted to "put the feelers out." "We wanted secret and direct contacts but they preferred indirect and closed talks," he said. "Negotiations with Israel are low on Syria's list of priorities, but we have a big responsibility to remove Syria from the cycle of hostilities," continued the defense minister. However, Barak stated that the chances of a deal being struck this year were not high. He went on to express concern over the recent fighting in Lebanon, which led to the Lebanese government's subsequent caving in to Hizbullah. "Events in Lebanon over the last month mark a victory for Hizbullah," he said. Regarding the Iranian threat, Barak said that the Islamic republic was pressing ahead with its efforts to attain nuclear arms and that Israel needed to act to stop it. "Israel must act so that this threat doesn't materialize. There are many things we can do, but the last things that help us are words and criticism," added Barak.