Officials: Gaza op will bring int'l troops

Defense officials tell 'Post' invasion will be launched even without promise of multinational force.

IDF gaza fence 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF gaza fence 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is considering a large-scale incursion into the Gaza Strip during which it would present an ultimatum to the international community for the deployment of a multinational force as the only condition under which it would withdraw, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post. Meanwhile Sunday, a soldier from the IDF's elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) was seriously wounded by a gunshot wound to the shoulder during an operation in the southern Gaza Strip. At least three Palestinian gunmen, including the shooter, were killed. The soldier was listed in serious but stable condition after being operated on Sunday night. While Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said numerous times that a major operation in Gaza is inevitable, the IDF has been reluctant to recommend such an incursion for a number of reasons, especially the lack of a clear exit strategy. Without a multinational force on the ground and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party too weak to retake control of Gaza, a large operation seems unlikely. However, Defense officials told the Post on Sunday that the current thinking in the defense establishment was to launch an operation in Gaza if deemed necessary by the political echelon, even without a multinational force in place. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has called for the deployment of such a force numerous times in recent months. Toward the end of Israel's monthlong war against Hizbullah in the summer of 2006, Israel told the US and Europe it would not agree to withdraw its troops unless the UN force in Lebanon was beefed up and given more aggressive rules of engagement. In the end, a cease-fire was reached after European countries pledged their participation in UNIFIL. "We are talking about the Second Lebanon War model," a defense official said. "To go to war and tell the world that if they want a cease-fire and for us to leave then they will need to send a force to replace us." In Gaza on Sunday, troops backed by aircraft and tanks swept into the southern part of the Strip near the former Dahiniye Airport and clashed with gunmen firing mortars and machine guns. Three gunmen were killed and more than 20 others were wounded, including several gunmen and a 45-year-old civilian who lives near the airport and was shot in the head, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain. The fighting erupted around 1 a.m. Sunday after IDF undercover troops took over several homes near the airport. Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers moved in to back the troops, and Israeli aircraft struck twice, Hamas said. In one air strike, three terrorists were killed, two from Hamas and one from the Popular Resistance Committees. During the raid, bulldozers flattened agricultural land to deny rocket squads cover and the army arrested men under 45, Hamas security and residents said. According to Hamas, at least 25 men were taken into custody. In Jerusalem, at the beginning of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would continue imposing economic sanctions, including small cuts to the electricity supply, on the Gaza Strip as long as the Kassam rocket attacks continued. "I think that this is being done correctly, prudently and responsibly," Olmert said. "This may not always be loved but it is an important part of counterterrorist activity." Also Sunday, a rocket hit next to a home in Sderot. No one was injured but several people were treated for shock. AP contributed to this report.