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BALANCE OF TERROR

Senior Israeli Official: 'Israel Is Conducting A Two Track Policy - Future Negotiations With Mahmoud Abbas While Suppressing Qassam Rocketing'

The outcome of the Palestinian rocketing of the Israeli town of Sderot will have a wide-ranging impact on the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert may have hugged Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan, but the Qassam rockets still fall on the Negev town of Sderot.

Sderot, the prime target of the Palestinian rocketing from the Gaza Strip, has become a test of wills. The Palestinians exploited Israel's total evacuation of the Gaza Strip last summer to terrorize the residents of Sderot, just a few miles inside Israel. Since then, they have fired over six hundred rockets at Israel; many of them into Sderot with the aim of killing and wounding as many civilians as possible. It is only the primitive nature of the Qassams and the Red Dawn warning system, that more children and adults have not been hit. But never knowing when the sirens will wail day or night warning that they have 30 seconds or so to rush to the bomb shelter is taking its toll. Next week, the beleaguered residents of Sderot will demonstrate in Jerusalem demanding that the Israeli government put a stop to the unbridled shelling of their town. Like Kiryat Shemona, the former PLO target on the Lebanese border, the steadfastness of Sderot residents is a key component in this test of wills. They will likely receive a strong show of solidarity from the government in Jerusalem.By the same token, Palestinian public opinion that has cheered the Qassams must be brought to realize they will not break Sderot. Only then will there be hope for a true dialogue of peace. This has not happened so far.

Instead of converting the Israeli evacuation into a springboard for launching the Roadmap for their Palestinian state, the terrorists have turned the Gaza Strip into a launch pad for their Qassam rockets. They have interpreted the Israeli pullout as a sign of weakness in a frenzy of rocketing.A senior Israeli official says Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz have opted for a two track policy-reaching out to Mahmoud Abbas while conducting a seek and destroy approach of Qassam squads and their leaders.

Israel has been reluctant to re-enter the Gaza Strip with ground forces to suppress the rocketing. Instead, artillery fire has been directed at launch sites of the Qassam squads and terrorists have been targeted by air borne missiles.

Some one hundred terrorists have been eliminated by this strategy. Then something went wrong. An explosion on the Gaza beach that killed seven members of the Ralia family was placed at Israel's doorstep although the latest evidence indicates it was probably a Palestinian explosive. In any case, Defense Minister Peretz suspended artillery fire. The Israel Air Force alone was left to confront the terrorists. IAF commander Eliezer Shekadi says air operations have increased five-fold this year. But in three cases, Israeli air-to-ground missiles have also killed some thirteen innocent Palestinians. The IAF is conducting an enquiry into whether human error or technical malfunction was responsible. The recent air strike that killed a Palestinian woman and her brother was due to the missile going astray. IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has reissued standing orders to abort operations that endanger innocent Palestinians.

Israeli military sources say, the Qassam squads that have been hard hit, deliberately operate amid civilians in the densely populated Gaza Strip. They cynically exploit their own people as cover to rocket Israeli civilians. Their Machiavellian attitude is: The Israelis must kill Palestinian children and women in order to attack us'. Television will then do the rest.

This is the unprecedented strategic challenge facing Israel and no other country today. To locate, identify and eliminate terrorists almost in real time before they can launch their Qassams. The Israel Air Force with arguably the top capability in the world is now seeking more surgical' tactics to do without hitting Palestinian bystanders. But while expressing regret over innocent casualties, Olmert has also declared that the targeted attacks will go on. Israel has no choice as long as the Qassam squads continue to target Sderot and other towns and villages inside the Israeli border.

David Essing

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