'Hamas looking to change picture'

Diskin: Not unsubstantial amount of Palestinians "understand" IDF targeting terrorists, not civilians.

olmert barak livni 248 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert barak livni 248
(photo credit: GPO)
Israel delivered a heavy blow to Hamas Saturday and the organization's leadership was in shock, but looking for ways to surprise Israel and "change the picture," Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet at its weekly meeting Sunday. "Hamas has not yet responded, and may even try to surprise us," Diskin said. He said the organization viewed Saturday's attacks as the"first blow," but was now looking for courses of action that would change the situation. Diskin was among the top security officials who briefed the cabinet Sunday, including Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The purpose of the meeting was to hear briefings on the situation, and not to debate the goals of the operation, one government official said. That discussion, which lasted four hours, was held last Wednesday in the Security Cabinet, where the military operation was approved. Diskin, who is mandated with having his finger on the pulse of the mood in the territories, said that a not unsubstantial part of the Palestinian population understood that the operation was against Hamas, which had inflicted great suffering on them, as well. He did not say upon what this assessment was based. The cabinet was also told that Israel had knocked out an estimated 50 percent of Hamas's underground rocket launching capacity on Saturday, but that the organization still retained a significant arsenal of short-and long-range missiles. One cabinet official said that Hamas had not turned to Israel to negotiate a cease-fire and that no international player had contacted Israel in an attempt to mediate. According to Ashkenazi, Israel had expected that Hamas would fire a volley of rockets into Israel after the first wave of air strikes, and therefore 15 minutes after the initial strike Israel knocked out the missile launchers located in underground pits throughout the Strip. Nevertheless, the cabinet was told that Hamas still retained thousands of missiles. Ashkenazi said that most of the Palestinians' 230-250 casualties on Saturday were uniformed, armed Hamas personnel. Ashkenazi said the IDF would continue with the operation for as long as necessary, and would call up additional reservists in the coming day. In light of that, the cabinet approved the Defense Ministry's request to call up 4,500 reserve troops, in addition to the 2,000 mobilized on Saturday. The additional troops were to be allocated to the home front as well as to reinforce ground forces. The cabinet also approved a continued "special situation" in the Gaza periphery, a situation that went into effect Saturday and is expected to continue until March 31, 2009. This status enables the Home Front Command to instruct local authorities to close down factories, keep people in their homes and other emergency regulations. In addition, ministers okayed the initiation of Melah (Economy in Time of Emergency) in the Gaza periphery, a plan that would mobilize civilians, along with government and security service infrastructure, to help in times of crisis. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet that "the patience, determination and stamina of the residents of the home front will, in the end, determine the ability of our military, security, civilian and diplomatic frameworks to function in order to complete the mission that we think must be attained." Olmert said the government had launched the operation "to restore normal life and quiet to residents of the South who - for many years - have suffered from unceasing rocket and mortar fire and terrorism designed to disrupt their lives and prevent them from enjoying a normal, relaxed and quiet life, as citizens of any country are entitled to."