Peretz signals stepped-up offensive

If talks fail, army would "take control" of launching sites "wherever they are."

amir peretz 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
amir peretz 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minster Amir Peretz promised Monday that he would not hesitate to order the army to step up its offensive if the diplomatic efforts at a cease-fire fail. Speaking during a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday, Peretz said: "We are at one of the most decisive stages of this war," adding that the IDF offensive would continue to target the sites of rocket launchers in Lebanon. "Diplomatic and military activities must work in unison," the defense minister said. In the absence of a diplomatic agreement the army "should take control" of launching sites "wherever they are to minimize the firing of Katyusha rockets and to take the Israeli people out of the shelters," said Peretz. The defense minister added Israel was determined to stop the rocketing of the North, either through political or military means, but Israel was not holding back because of diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. "The two paths are proceeding in parallel, and I hope the goals will be reached," he said. "If the political process can stop the firing, Israel can say its operation changed the equation of the situation in the North." In the meantime, he added, the military had received all the backing it had sought from the government. Peretz also told the committee that since the incident in Kafr Kana, international support for Israel had declined. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz visited the IDF's Northern Command on Monday morning and were accompanied by ministers Eli Yishai and Rafi Eitan. The four met with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and other senior officers where they were presented with plans to expand the IDF's operation to the area around the Litani River. Defense officials said that the rockets that hit Haifa on Sunday night, killing three and wounding at least 150, were launched from a village near the Litani. The Knesset members at the committee meeting voted by a wide majority to support Peretz's suggestion that the IDF expand its operations up to that point. Following Peretz's speech, a representative from Military Intelligence told the committee that the Syrians were continuing to supply Hizbullah with arms. Although the army was stopping the majority of those arms from reaching Hizbullah, some weapons were continuing to get through, said the officer. He added that Iran was also attempting to transfer arms to the group.