Defense officials skeptical of ceasefire

Olmert: Israel strong enough to show restraint and give deal a chance.

Kassam is jihad  298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Kassam is jihad 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear Sunday that he would give the Palestinians a grace period to implement the cease-fire agreement., high-ranking defense officials expressed skepticism that the truce would last, saying it was just a matter of time before the IDF returned to combat terrorism in the Gaza Strip. "It is fragile and unstable," a senior defense official involved in the talks with the Palestinians told The Jerusalem Post when describing the truce. "It is more problematic than reliable."
  • Insight: A cease-fire not worth crowing about
  • Analysis: IDF not happy with agreement At 6 a.m. Sunday, a cease-fire obtained Saturday night in a phone call between Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas went into effect with the complete withdrawal of IDF forces from the Gaza Strip. Palestinian armed organization did not immediately hold up their end of the bargain and 11 Kassam rockets struck the western Negev throughout the morning. By 10 a.m., however, the Gaza front was quiet. "I took into account the fact that a cease-fire is not something that is fully implemented immediately, without any violations," Olmert said at a ceremony inaugurating a new high school in Rahat, a few hours after the first post-cease-fire Kassam rockets slammed into Sderot. Despite a realization that there would be violations, Olmert said he asked Defense Minister Amir Peretz to withdraw the IDF units from the Gaza Strip, something that was done early Sunday morning. "While there are still Palestinian violations of the cease-fire, I have instructed our security forces to refrain from responding, to show restraint and to give this cease-fire a chance to go into full, practical and comprehensive effect, in accordance with the commitment made yesterday by PA Chairman Abu-Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas]," Olmert said. Israel, he said, "will not miss this opportunity, but rather contribute to and strengthen this opportunity, in order to be able to move forward." Calling the cease-fire "not the best thing" but something "with potential," defense officials said Israel would show restraint for the time being, although not forever. Peretz convened a meeting of top defense officials Sunday morning to discuss the consequences of the decision to accept the cease-fire agreement on future IDF operations. "Any rocket fired at Israel will be considered a violation of the cease-fire and will be dealt with severely," Peretz said. "Israel is interested in calm but not at the cost of harm inflicted on its citizens." Officials in the Prime Minister's Office gave no timetable regarding how much time Israel would give the Palestinians to implement the cease-fire before resuming military operations in Gaza. One of the big questions the IDF was looking for answers to on Sunday was what would the response be if the Palestinians were caught smuggling arms into Gaza from Egypt despite the cease-fire. Sources in the IDF Southern Command said the military had been ordered not to initiate any offensive actions in the Gaza Strip, including targeted killings. "Our posture will be completely defensive and outside the Gaza Strip," one officer said. Olmert said Israel was strong enough to fight terrorism and "to show restraint and give the cease-fire a chance to be fully implemented, in accordance with Abu-Mazen's commitment to me." Olmert seemed encouraged that Hamas said that Sunday morning's Kassam rocket fire was a violation of Palestinian obligations. "I am in contact with the Palestinian Authority to make sure that this obligation is fulfilled, and we will show patience and restraint in order to give it a chance," he said. Officials in Olmert's office said there was contact throughout the day between officials in the Prime Minister's Office and those in Abbas's office. Making reference to the fact that the cease-fire did not deal with the release of captive Cpl. Gilad Shalit, Olmert said the agreement did not deal with all "outstanding issues" between Israel and the PA. Olmert said that while Shalit's release was not part of the internal arrangement between the Palestinian factions that brought about the cease-fire, "I believe that this understanding regarding a cease-fire could contribute to the speedy release of Gilad Shalit." While Israel says the cease-fire only applies to the Gaza Strip, at least three Palestinian armed organizations think otherwise and threaten to continue attacks from Gaza if Israeli military activity continues in the West Bank. Olmert said he hoped the cease-fire would be expanded to the West Bank. "At the moment, it still does not apply there," Olmert said, "and I hope that they will show responsibility and good will on this issue as well." Olmert said he hoped such agreements would lead to "the commencement of serious, genuine, open and direct negotiations between us and the PA, between Abu-Mazen and myself, in order for us to be able to proceed towards a comprehensive agreement between us and the Palestinians." Some MKs were less upbeat about the agreement. MK Arye Eldad (National Union-NRP) said on Sunday that the "government doesn't have much reason to celebrate the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip." Eldad, referring to Olmert and Peretz, said that "these weak people couldn't stop the attacks on Israel, and are therefore ready to allow Hamas the necessary time to turn Gaza into southern Lebanon." "Olmert and Peretz are serial failures," he said. NU-NRP chairman Benny Elon seemed to agree, saying, "Olmert has once again tricked the public with a cease-fire that blew up in his face." Earlier, after Palestinians had fired five Kassam rockets in breach of the agreement, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Army Radio that Israel could not permit Kassams to be launched at its citizens, but that some irregularities were to be expected during the early hours of the truce. She said Israel "is at the beginning of a new day" and that "the coming hours will dictate the nature of the cease-fire." Livni said that if Israel learned of attempts to fire rockets, they must be stopped, but the Palestinians must be given a chance to do it first. "It is our duty to prevent Kassam attacks. If we allow them to prevent the launches, then all the better. If they don't, we will," she said. Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.