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Israeli Settlement Freeze And Palestinian Violence

IDF Chief Of Staff Ashkenazi: 'IDF Preparing For Palestinian Violence In Judea & Samaria If Current Negotiations Break Down'

Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon: 'Defense Minister Barak Is Expected To Comply With Prime Minister Netanyahu's Decision Not To Extend Settlement Freeze Beyond Sept.26th Deadline'

IsraCast Assessment: Israeli Renewal Of Building At Existing Settlements Appears Imminent Despite Palestinian Ultimatum - The Question Is At What Level

IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi

 There is still no solution in sight to the tug-of-war between Israel and the Palestinians over the expiry of Israel's self-imposed building freeze at Israeli settlements in Judea & Samaria (West Bank). The Israeli government says construction will be resumed after the Sept.26th deadline - if it is, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatens to walk out of the current peace talks with Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The U.S. has been prodding Netanyahu to extend his 'building suspension' but the PM's Right-wing coalition colleagues are demanding that he keep his word to send the bulldozers back to work. Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi is preparing for 'all contingencies' including a possible renewed wave of Palestinian violence on the West Bank.

 Time is rapidly running out for Israel's self-imposed freeze on building at West Bank settlements on Sept.26th with no sign that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will extend the moratorium. However Channel Ten TV has reported an Israeli tactic that could prevent any widespread renewal of the controversial building. Under Israeli law, the construction on thousands of housing units can be immediately resumed after Sept.26th unless the Israeli cabinet takes special action to extend the freeze. However there may be another scenario. During Jewish holidays, such as Sukkot (Tabernacles) which starts on Sept.22nd, Israel's Defense Ministry bars Palestinians from entering Israel and the settlements. According to the TV report, this order could be extended to the settlements beyond Sept.26th. Bearing in mind, Palestinian construction workers actually do most of the building in the settlements, this would mean that little construction would be done. In short, it would put the kibosh on new building in the settlements.

President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is under intense political pressure from inside his government and the by the settlers to renew the building and he would be hauled over the coals, if he did acquiesced in such a tactic. On the other hand, Netanyahu does not want to be blamed for torpedoing the talks and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is sticking by his threat to walk out if the bulldozers move in after Sept.26th. U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are also keeping up the pressure on Israel's leader. Now Likud Cabinet Minister Moshe Yaalon, an influential member of Netanyahu's 'Big Seven' cabinet advisers has just weighed in. Yaalon, a former IDF Chief of Staff, is confident the freeze will end on Sept.26th as planned. Yaalon also thinks that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who opposes the the renewal of the settlement building, will comply with the inner cabinet's position against extending the freeze and the renewed building be similar to the pace of former (Left- wing) governments. As time runs out, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are also reportedly working on a solution in their contacts at the current U.N. General Assembly Session in New York.

IDF Preparing For Palestinian Violence...

The Israel Defense Forces are preparing for all contingencies if the current Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations do fall through. Appearing at a closed door Knesset meeting, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said a breakdown in the talks could trigger a new round of Palestinian violence in Judea & Samaria (West Bank). However the IDF's top commander did not foresee the level of violence such as the Second Intifada that erupted after the failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000. For one thing, the Hamas terror infrastructure has been downgraded and a new wave of violence would serious affect the current prosperity enjoyed by West Bank Palestinians. Gen.Ashkenazi described West Bank Palestinians has taken a 'sober approach hoping for some progress'. Although there was good coordination with the Palestinian security forces on the West Bank, the IDF still operates through all of the West Bank when it feels it must act to intercept terrorists. He noted the IDF was aware that a dangerous Hamas cell was at large in the Hebron area but failed to catch the terrorists before they carried out two drive-by shootings that murdered four Israeli civilians and wounding several others. (The Palestinian Authority has announced the arrests of the killers during a manhunt that rounded up several hundred Hamas members).

Hamas terrorists firing rockets

In any event, Netanyahu has issued a stern warning to Hamas. On a visit to the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, two frequent targets of Hamas rocketing from Gaza, Netanyahu declared: 'I strongly advise Hamas not to test our determination'. Over the past two months, 60 rockets and mortars bombs have been fired at Israel from Gaza and the IDF acts on both sides of the security fence when necessary. Israeli aircraft had carried out 22 missions to intercept the terrorists. Apparently stymied by the security fence and the IDF, Hamas has extended its infrastructure into Egyptian controlled Sinai from where it launched rockets at Israel's Red Sea resort of Eilat. (One Jordanian policeman was killed when one of the rockets overshot Eilat and landed in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. Gen. Ashekenazi described cooperation in counter-terrorism with Egypt and Jordan as 'excellent'.

More Flotillas To Gaza...

Dressed in combat fatigues, Gen.Ashkenazi arrived at the Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee straight from an exercise by the paratroop brigade. He said the IDF was preparing to cope with four more aid flotillas that could set sail for Gaza in the near future. They were being organized in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. The most problematic would be the flotilla of several dozen boats from Europe carrying nationals from different countries. But he made clear: ' If they try to break the blockade of Gaza by force and violence, necessitating the IDF's intervention, I cannot guarantee there will not be casualties'.

The Chief of Staff was pleased by what he saw at the paratroop maneuvers. Himself, an old Golani infantryman, Ashkenazi was pleased to see Israel Air Force pilots, plodding along with the troops on the ground at night, to get a better feel for air-to-ground coordination under combat conditions. He disclosed that 75% of eligible recruits volunteer for combat units. But on the other hand, Gen.Ashkenazi was concerned at draft dodgers who refused to serve at all. More and more ultra-orthodox chose to study at yeshiva religious seminaries rather than serve in the IDF and he called for legislation that all Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, to be obliged to do some form of national service, either military or civilian. He added there was growing discontent among those who do serve that those who don't were being left off the hook.

As for the new shore-to-sea missiles that Russia is supplying Syria, the Chief of Staff said the IDF would know how to cope and they would not deter Israel's navy from carrying out its missions. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak had called on Moscow not to supply the missiles that have a range of 300 kilometers but the Russian leaders replied that they were only 'defensive weapons'. An Israeli concern is that Syria supplies most of the weapons in its arsenal to Hizballah in Lebanon. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Hizballah seriously damaged an Israeli navy vessel with a similar type missile.

David Essing

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