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Defense Minister Amir Peretz: 'Under No Circumstances Will Israeli Town Of Sderot Be Evacuated Due To Palestinian Rocketing From Gaza Strip'

Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens: 'IDF Will Have To Launch Ground Operation Into Gaza To Halt Palestinian Attacks'

Defense Minister Amir Peretz

Is Israel planning to evacuate the Negev town of Sderot which is located just across the border from the Gaza Strip? Defense Minister Amir Peretz categorically denied rumors that this is in the offing in light of the repeated Palestinian rocketing of the town. Meanwhile, a former defense minister,  Moshe Arens says Israel will have no choice but to launch a major ground operation into Gaza to suppress the rocketing.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz has catagorically denied persistent rumours that the Israeli government plans on evacuating Sderot, which has been bombarded by over one thousand Qassam rockets since Israel withdrew from the nearby Gaza Strip in August 2005. Peretz was visiting his home town for the annual Tu 'Bshat tree planting ceremony. Rumours of  a future evacution raced through the town after public officials carried out a census of the the number of residents and their addresses. But today Peretz declared: ' There is no evacuation plan nor will there be. I call on the residents of Sderot to remain living here with me and my family'.  However, despite the Palestinian infighting inside the Gaza Strip, the terrorists still find time to launch more Qassam rockets into Sderot terrorizing the civilians. In light of the repeated rocketing, a former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens predicts the IDF will eventually have to be sent back into the Gaza Strip to suppress the rocket attacks. Arens assessed the current situation after last week's suicide bombing in Eilat.

Interview With Former Defense Minister Moshe Arens

We are speaking now with Moshe Arens. Moshe Arens has been a Likud Knesset member, a senior Likud cabinet minister, serving in the post of defense minister and foreign minister, as well as being Israel's ambassador to Washington.

Q: First of all, Moshe Arens, on the basis of your past experience, Sir, how would you describe the situation facing Israel today, after the vicious terrorist attack, the suicide bombing in Eilat, which killed three civilians?

Former Defense Minister Prof. Moshe Arens

A: I think it has got to be seen in the context of a many year effort by Palestinian terrorists to attack Israel, to attack Israelis, to effect the ability of Israeli society to function normally. We've had considerable success in the battle against these terrorists. If you look back four or five years and remember the days when we had a daily terrorist attack, sometimes a number of terrorist attacks a day. This attack in Eilat, which of course caused damage and murdered civilians, came after an interim of about four or five months, I think. So in some senses it is an indication that we have been quite successful, on the other hand the battle is not over. Not over by any means.

Q: Some commentators believe that the terrorists are now trying to deflect the focus of attention from their internal power struggle to attacking Israel, and if this is the case, how should Israel react? Because since the so called Tahdia, the ceasefire, Israel has not carried out offensive operations into the Gaza Strip.

A: I think that the Palestinian terrorist organizations, whether it is Hamas or Islamic Jihad or Al Aqsa Brigades - there is a long list of groups that engage in terrorist activity against Israel - they have been active all along. They were active before the internal struggle broke out in the Gaza strip, and they continue to be active even after the internal struggle has broken out. So I think that the motivation of these groups to carry out terrorist activities against Israel has not abated by any means. It may be that some of them are preoccupied with the internal struggle and don't have the time to do what they would like to do against Israel. But we've had the rocket attacks against Israeli civilian population from the Gaza Strip on an almost daily basis, endangering Israeli civilians, a situation that really can not be allowed to continue to exist.

Q: But is Israel not facing a dilemma in that if Israel starts carrying out more targeted killings, and perhaps more ground operations in and out of Gaza, that this could change the situation inside the Gaza Strip when it comes to the internal strife as being there now?

A: I don't think any of us really are in a position to predict what the results would be of this or that action. And I don't think that we can reach that decision based on this kind of uncertain predictions. I think we have to follow basic rules and basic principles, and it is the duty of the government to protect the civilians of the State of Israel. They can not allow terrorist attacks against civilians to continue, they can not allow the rocket attacks to continue. So we have to do what ever needs to be done in order to put a stop to that. I think a calculation that says "well, maybe we better not do it, let Israeli civilians continue to suffer from rocket attacks, because if we try to protect them, or if we try to do what is needed to protect them, there may be this or that development on the Palestinian scene" - I think that is really not a valid argument. Actually the basic move that Israel has to take, and I suppose eventually will take, it's just taking too long, is to put the rockets out of range, which means to move ground troops into those parts of the Gaza Strip from which the rockets are being launched and free the Israeli civilians from this daily terror.

Q: Another option that is being considered is a security fence along the two hundred kilometer long border between Israel and Egypt, from where the suicide bomber apparently penetrated. Would you be in support of building such a fence, although it would cost billions of Shekels?

A: First of all, as we have learned and should have known without receiving these lessons, the rockets don't have any great respect for the fence. They fly right over. And tunnels don't have great respect for the fence. I don't think that fencing ourselves in is really the solution to the problems that we face. What we need to do is to pursue an active policy, an active war against the terrorists. I think that prior to the disengagement we were very close to scoring a decisive victory against Palestinian terrorism, and in my view the disengagement really turned everything upside down - encouraged the Palestinian terrorists, gave them the impression that it was acts of terror that brought Israel to the conclusion that the Israeli settlers should be uprooted from Gush Katif, and until we correct that image and restore the deterring capability that we have been so successful in building against terrorism, I think that we will continue to have problems and the fence is not going to solve it.

Q: Moshe Arens, thank you very much for talking with us today, Sir.

Transcript by Dar Translations


David Essing

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