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Inside Gaza - I.D.F Hits Hamas

Moshe Arens: "IDF must reach Hamas rocket sites in Gaza in order to halt rocketing of Israeli cities"

"Operation can be completed quite shortly without requiring a permanent IDF presence in Gaza"

"There can be no cease-fire with Hamas, Al-Qaeda or other terror organizations – terrorists must be fought and defeated"

IDF forces complete final preparations before beginning a ground operation in the Gaza Strip

Eight days after the IDF launched major air strikes, Hamas continued its relentless rocketing of Israeli towns and villages from Gaza. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both declared there was no alternative but to send in IDF troops and tanks to silence the shelling of Israeli civilians once and for all. Moshe Arens, a former Israeli Defense Minister and Foreign Minister and a Likud party member, assessed the evolving situation for IsraCast concluding this is a campaign that Israel can and must win.

The IDF forces must reach areas of Gaza being used as launch sites to rocket Israeli cities - that's the assessment of Moshe Arens. In his view, the current operation can be completed quite shortly and there would be no need for a permanent IDF presence in Gaza once Hamas terrorists have lost control. However, it was necessary to prevent the recurrence of rocketing of Israeli communities across the border.

Preparations for Ground Operation in the Gaza Strip

When asked about the difficulty of conducting military operations against guerrillas, who use their own civilians as cover, Arens replied that this was unfortunately the case but the IDF's goal was to prevent Israeli civilians from being endangered by the terrorists. In his view, the Palestinian population of Gaza will come to realize the tragic results brought by their Hamas leadership.

When asked about possible international pressure on Israel to halt the campaign and the charges that Israel was using excessive force, Arens replied that French President Sarkozy would not have acted any differently than Israel if French civilians were being rocketed. Israel was now seeing the results of a six-month cease-fire with Hamas that the terrorists have exploited to regroup and acquire longer range rockets to attack Israeli cities. This is also the reality that IDF troops have to deal with today inside Gaza.

On the regional lever, many moderate Arab states were ambivalent despite their public positions. They realize that Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Iran, posed a radical Islamist threat to them as well. Arens said these countries "do not want Hamas or Hezbollah to win".

Should Israel make the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit a condition for an eventual cease-fire with Gaza? Arens replied that he did not believe in an agreement with terrorists like Hamas or Al-Qaeda - they had to be fought or defeated.

Transcript of the interview

We are speaking with Moshe Arens, he has served as both Defense and Foreign Minister of Israel as well as Israel’s Ambassador to Washington. Moshe Arens is considered to be one of Israel’s preeminent experts on Israeli security and foreign affairs. First of all Moshe Arens, less than 24 hours after IDF troops and tanks moved back into the Gaza strip, what do you see as Israel’s major objectives now?

Moshe Arens

Former Defense Minister Professor Moshe Arens is Chairman of the International Board of Governors of the Ariel University Center of Samaria. He was a member of the Likud party, and served as Minister of Defense three times.

I think the objective is to stop the rocketing of Israeli cities, and that requires reaching the areas from which the rockets are launched, and I think that the IDF is in the process of achieving this aim. 

But as we speak, those rockets are still being fired from the Gaza strip at Sderot and other Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

Well I don’t think the IDF has as yet reached all the areas from which all these rockets have been launched, don’t forget, the operation began little more than 12 hours ago, so give the IDF a little time.

Well, the IDF now has boots on the ground, as they say in the US, do you think it will be necessary for the IDF to take-up a permanent re-occupation of the Gaza Strip, in order to prevent a repetition of rocket firing of Israel?

I don’t think so. I think that once we have stopped the firing of rockets, the IDF has reached the areas from which rockets have been fired. I think it will be possible to bring about some changes in the Gaza strip that will create a situation so that when the IDF moves out, they will not be a re-occurrence of rockets firing. 

Moshe Arens, you have been there, you have served as Israel’s Defense Minister.  What do you think must be going through Ehud Barak’s mind at this particular juncture when it comes to running this operation, because a guerilla war, or a war against guerillas, involves civilians, it also puts your own troops in danger, in having to carry out house-to-house fighting.

Well, all wars involve dangers, there is no two ways about that, we wish it wasn’t that way. But you have to remember that our civilians were in danger until this operation began, and the aim of this operation is to move our civilians out of danger so that’s what I’m thinking about, and I assume that’s what the Defense Minister is thinking about as well. 

There’s talk now, perhaps an International force being stationed along the Gaza border with Egypt to prevent a repetition of the smuggling of rockets, do you think that is a viable proposition?

I think it’s probably not very likely.  It’s hard for me to see soldiers from other countries putting their lives at risk, in order to enter this rather dangerous area.  Once the situation quiets down and the terrorists don’t rule the Gaza strip anymore, by then I don’t think it will be necessary. 

But who will replace Hamas?

I don’t think they are the ‘only game in town’ and there must be lots of Palestinians in the Gaza strip who are not happy with the way Hamas has been running things, and the very tragic results for them, that were brought about by what Hamas was doing, so there should be quite a few people in Gaza who would be happy to see Hamas go.

Alright, if the objectives are to stop the rocketing and prevent repetition in the future, how much time does Israel have, because international pressure is building and we have the French president Sarkozy coming to Israel tomorrow, he’s already called for a ceasefire, and he and some other international figures, the UN Secretary General have spoken about an excessive Israeli response to the Hamas rocketing of Israel.

I don’t think that the aims that we are trying to achieve are going to take an indefinite period of time, I think they can be done quite shortly and I think that in much of the international community there is an understanding for the needs of this kind of operation, that civilians cannot be put at risk constantly by the use of rockets, as a matter of fact I can’t think of France reacting any differently than the way we have reacted, so I’d be very surprised if Sarkozy does not understand what we are doing, and eventually support what we are doing.

How difficult is it for Israel to conduct this type of war against Hamas and as it did against Hezbollah on the North, because Israel being what it is, a small country, it cannot behave the way the Americans bomb at will, in Iraq and Afghanistan or the way the Russians did in Chechnya, what are the considerations that a Defense Minister must take into account?

Unfortunately we’ve gained quite a bit of experience in fighting terrorism and the one advantage, if you can call it that, that we have over the Americans in Iraq or even the Russians in Chechnya, is that its right next door. It’s a disadvantage in that imposes immediate danger to our civilian population, which isn’t the case for the United States or for France, or even for the Russians, although they had some terrorist attacks in Moscow itself, but at the same time, the terrorists are within reach, and we have handled that situation in Judea and Samaria after the spade of suicide attacks lasting for about two years, and we’ve put that to rest, and I think that we will be equally successful in the Gaza strip.

Well, the threat not only comes from the Gaza strip in the South but also along the Lebanese border, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah again threatening Israel and Iran itself has declared that Gaza will become the graveyard of Israeli soldiers. Do you think there is a real risk at this time that Hezbollah might start rocketing Israel again?

First of all you shouldn’t put too much faith in the propaganda broadcast coming out of Tehran, what their intentions are and what their wishes are we all know.   They are seeking the destruction of the state of Israel, fortunately they don’t have the capability to bring that about and it’s the duty of the civilized world to make sure that they don’t reach that capability. But Hezbollah is another terrorist organization, a bigger one and a stronger one than the Hamas in the South, I think they’re aware of Israel’s capabilities, but if they make the mistake of provoking us, then I think they will find out that they have made a very bad mistake.

Will Lebanon also have made a bad mistake by incorporating Hezbollah into the Lebanese military and also having Hezbollah sit in the Lebanese government?

I think that is a mistake for Lebanon and for the people of Lebanon, and maybe the Hezbollah has grown so strong that the other communities in Lebanon had no choice, I am not in a position to judge that, it’s an unfortunate turn of events and to the extent to which it is a mistake, first and foremost a mistake for Lebanon itself.

When it comes to talk of a ceasefire, and that is surely going to come in the days ahead, do you think that Israel should make a condition of Hamas releasing the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit a condition for the ceasefire?

I don’t believe in ceasefire with terrorists, I don’t believe in a ceasefire with Al-Qaeda and I don’t believe in a ceasefire with Hamas. A terrorist, I think, has to be fought and has to be defeated. Just giving them a ceasefire and a chance to retrain and to rearm and prepare themselves for the next round, I think is a very serious mistake and I think it was a mistake on the part of Israel during the past six months when they’ve agreed to the ceasefire with Hamas and we see the results now. They’ve managed to bring in long range rockets, increase their stocks of ammunition and weapons, and now soldiers have to face them.

So you believe one of the objectives should be the toppling of the Hamas regime in Gaza? 

I don’t know if we want to speculate as to what objectives can be reached, now we are certainly not supporters of the Hamas regime, but I think that the immediate objective that we want to concentrate on is stopping the firing of rockets against Israeli towns and villages and letting Israeli civilians and children in the South to assume a normal way of life: for kids to go to school, for people to go to work and not having to run to bomb shelters every few minutes.

Can I ask you Sir, about the broader Middle-East prospective, there have been demonstrations on the Arab streets of many of the Sunni Arab moderate states in the Middle East, yet their governments have not taken any real action, in fact even Egypt ‘s president Mubarak has criticized Hamas for triggering this current flare-up. Do you think in this confrontation between the threat of a nuclear armed Iran and what that poses for the moderate Arab states, the Sunni states in the Middle East, that this confrontation over Gaza has become a watershed, a test case for how the whole region might go in the future?

I think it is clear for some time now, even before the Israeli operation in Gaza, that many Arab governments, not only are not in favor of the Muslim fundamentalists like Hamas and Hezbollah, which are terrorist organizations, but actually concerned about the possibility that these kind of movements might come to the fore within their own countries, so they probably have some mixed feelings about the Israeli operation in Gaza and for that matter even about the Israeli operation during the second Lebanon war. I don’t think that many of them want Hezbollah to win and I don’t think that many of them want Hamas to win at the present time. 

And finally Sir, I recall that Henry Kissinger once said and I am asking you this as both a former Defense Minister and Foreign Minister, Kissinger has said that in guerrilla type warfare, that if the guerrilla does not lose, he wins and that if a conventional army fighting against the guerilla does not win, he will eventually lose. Would you agree with that in light of the current situation that is evolving in Gaza?

I would say there is a lot to be said for that analysis and I think that analysis only emphasizes the fact that in the Gaza operation we have to win, and I think we have what it takes to win so I hope that is the way it is going to turn out. 

No backing down on Israel’s part?

I don’t think so, no.

Thank you Moshe Arens for your assessment of the current confrontation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip.  

David Essing

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