Peretz: Israel should talk with Syria

Defense minister: Harsh action against Kassams will be "decisive."

Israel should begin negotiations with Syria, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday evening in an interview to Channel 10. IDF action against the continued Kassam rocket fire will be decisive, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told Channel 10 Sunday evening. Turning to the continued Kassam rocket threat, Peretz said, "We need to act. We need to target the people who are causing the escalation. What we received today was more freedom to act." "The moment we decide on harsh action, it will be a decisive action," he said. Peretz also said that after the Labor party primaries were over, he intended to leave the Defense Ministry, and that he was rethinking his position in the government. Clearly influenced by the Winograd Committee's interim report, security cabinet ministers met Sunday for more than three hours on the situation in Gaza, heard an array of policy options, and asked a number of "pressing" questions. No operational policy decisions, however, were made, and the discussions on how to deal with the Hamas buildup in Gaza and the Kassam rocket fire on the western Negev will continue either later this week or next week. This was the first post-Winograd security cabinet meeting, and government officials said it was clear that the participants had internalized the Winograd panel's findings. The Winograd Committee was harshly critical of the army for not presenting the government with various options, and of the cabinet ministers for not asking penetrating questions when the IDF brought its plans for the Second Lebanon War for approval. Sunday's discussion, according to government officials, was "both broad and in-depth," with plans presented by the IDF, its Military Intelligence unit, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry. No approval was given for a broad ground operation inside Gaza, something that IDF officials have been recommending for some time. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reportedly said at the meeting that if IDF action inside Gaza was needed that went beyond what had already been approved, then he and Defense Minister Amir Peretz were empowered to give the green light. Olmert started out the security cabinet meeting by asking for a "blackout" on it, and even instructed the ministers to remove their cellular phone batteries to prevent SMS messages from being sent. The ministers heard briefings on the flow of arms into Gaza, the Kassam rocket fire, the threat of kidnappings of IDF soldiers along the border, and the danger that the growing anarchy inside Gaza may lead to stepped up terrorism against Israel. Prior to the security cabinet meeting, several ministers - on their way to the weekly meeting of the full cabinet - spoke about the possibility of a more aggressive IDF policy. "I think we have to weigh expanding our activities in Gaza, but I would not recommend a complete occupation of Gaza similar to recommendations I have heard for a general operation like Operation Defensive Shield [in the West Bank in 2002]," Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim (Kadima) said. "That would be a honey trap." Boim said, however, that there was a lot that could be done between doing nothing and an all-out operation like Defensive Shield. He also said that understandings with the US and the Egyptians had to be reached to stop the smuggling of arms into Gaza from Sinai. Shas head Eli Yishai said that while he supported wider military action, he didn't have a large-scale ground operation but rather pinpoint, surgical actions in mind. He advocated targeting infrastructure in Gaza as well as a return to the targeted killings of terrorist leaders. "To enter Gaza for a year is completely unnecessary," he said. Gil Pensioners Party head Rafi Eitan, meanwhile, said the solution to the situation in Gaza would not come through any one military action, but rather through the assistance of various international entities, such as Egypt. "We have been suffering from rocket fire from Gaza for the last six years," he said, "but the problem of Gaza has been going on for 60 years." AP contributed to this report.