Barak: IDF ops could lead to war

Hamas operatives escape from car bombed by IAF in Gaza; Ashkenazi: Army all set to fulfill its missions.

barak sderot 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
barak sderot 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
The government could in the "near future send the army out on a large-scale operation that could lead to war," Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday. Barak spoke in the aftermath of a sharp increase in rocket attacks launched from Gaza against Israel's southern border, including one that wounded two brothers on Saturday evening. On Monday, nine mortar shells and three Kassam rockets were fired into Israel. As Sderot residents held angry protests for the second day in a row, Barak pledged to stop the attacks and said: "I have asked the IDF to prepare a wide-scale operation in Gaza." In the last few months, the IDF has intensified its Gaza activities and killed 200 terrorists, including 16 in the last few days, Barak said. While the operation's immediate goal was to weaken Hamas, Barak said, the IDF's mid-range objective was to topple the group. Hours after he spoke, an IAF plane bombed a car carrying Hamas operatives in Gaza, but failed to kill them. The operatives escaped and two Palestinian bystanders were wounded. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders are reportedly so frightened of Israeli assassination attempts that they have gone underground. At the Knesset, Barak said, "We will not refrain from any activity or possibility that can return quiet and security to Sderot and the area around Gaza." But Barak warned that it wouldn't "happen in a day or two, or even in the next few weeks." The defense minister added that the "army [was] acting and will act every way necessary to achieve these goals - first and foremost, halting the rocket attacks." In addition, he said, Israel wanted the Rafah border closed and to "totally disconnect" from Gaza. He warned the media, civilians and those with security backgrounds to refrain from laying out possible scenarios of what the IDF might do. Such reports and suggestions were "harmful and dangerous" and "can only serve those who we are trying to attack," Barak said. Gaza was not the only threat Barak addressed. In light of last week's suicide bombing in Dimona that killed one woman and wounded 40 other people, he called for a quick completion of the security fence in the southern Hebron hills and for work to begin on sections of a fence between Israel and Egypt. Two sections, the first between Nitzana and Kerem Shalom and the second around Eilat, were approved by the cabinet back in 2005, Barak said. "I will work with all my power to finish the fence, and the only [body] who can stop this is the Finance Ministry," Barak added, alluding to the budgetary problems that have recently plagued the construction of the West Bank security fence. Barak said growing ties between Syria and Hizbullah had worrisome implications for the future. Hizbullah is strengthening its capabilities on the northern border, he said, and now possesses three times as many rockets as it did prior to the Second Lebanon War. In light of the threats facing Israel, it was hard to ignore that critical decisions were likely to be made by the same government that so failed to make the right moves during that war, said Barak. Addressing the recently-released final Winograd Report, he said the text indicated "failures at all levels of the government" and requires "deep soul searching." Barak's words were backed by a statement from Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who also said Monday that the IDF was prepared for a large-scale operation in Gaza. "The IDF is prepared to deepen and widen its operations as much necessary and according to decisions that will be made," he said during a conference for high-ranking IDF officers at Hatzor Air Force Base. During the conference, the participants heard a briefing of Israel's current strategic standing in the Middle East from Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of Military Intelligence's Research Division. Much of the conference was dedicated to a review of the Winograd Committee's findings. Commanders' speeches emphasized the recent unprecedented increase in military training and preparations for future conflicts. Ashkenazi said that the IDF was currently facing a growing number of challenges, including Hamas and Iran's nuclear program, and stressed the importance of maintaining strong values - including devotion to a mission, striving for victory, responsibility, credibility, professionalism, and discipline. Ashkenazi said that the IDF was studying the Winograd Report and would adopt recommendations that have not yet been implemented. "[This] coming year is full of security challenges and the IDF needs to be prepared for them," he said. "I have complete faith in you and in the knowledge that the IDF is ready to fulfill its missions. There is no one else to protect out homeland." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.