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PM Sharon: 'It Is Very Important That Knesset Approves Deployment Of 750 Egyptian Soldiers On Gaza Border'

IDF Chief Of Staff Halutz: 'The Stationing of Egyptian Army Unit Will Not Pose Military Problem'

Fireworks When New IDF Chief Of Staff Briefs Knesset Committee

Dan Halutz

After facing sharp criticism and a petition to Israel's Supreme Court, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has agreed that Knesset will vote on his proposal to allow 750 Egyptian soldiers to patrol along the Gaza Strip border after an IDF withdrawal. Opponents to the idea had earlier petitioned the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether the Knesset vote was necessary. Making his first appearance as IDF Chief of Staff before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, General Dan Halutz said the military are now prepared to carry out the evacuation of some 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and 4 West Bank settlements. However, the Chief of Staff clashed with several MKs who oppose the controversial withdrawal.

Prime Minister Sharon now says he will let Israel's parliament decide whether 750 Egyptian Border Guards will be allowed to patrol along the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip. Sharon contends these Egyptian troops can plug the smuggling of Palestinian arms and smuggling from Egyptian controlled Sinai into the Gaza Strip. The PM called on the Knesset to approve his 'important proposal' that is a key element of the whole evacuation scheme. At present, Israeli forces control a narrow buffer zone that separates the Gaza Strip from Egypt, but are faced with evacuating it as part of the overall disengagement. One of the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty is the demilitarization of Sinai and critics say the 750 Egyptian troops will undercut it. Sharon can be expected to exert his considerable weight with coalition MKs to get his proposal approved by the House.

Chief of Staff's Stormy Debut: Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, gave his first briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and there were fireworks. First, General Halutz said he saw no military problem to 750 Egyptian troops replacing Egyptian policemen along the border with the Gaza Strip. Halutz contradicted the former Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon who opposed the move. Several right-wingers who reject the overall disengagement plan took issue with Halutz. Likud MK Uzi Landau accused Sharon of creating a 'weather-vane club' of top officials who would see which way the wind was blowing before presenting their professional opinions. The danger was that they would turn into Sharon's 'yes-men otherwise they were out'. Landau called on General Halutz to make sure this did not happen and to keep the IDF out of the political debate. And Landau declared IDF officers must say exactly what they think and not color their views.

General Halutz: 'But you don't leave the IDF out of the political debate if you talk about a club of weather-vanes'.MK Landau:' I'm talking about the message that is being sent'.General Halutz: 'What you've just said is double-talk'

MK Landau: 'I suggest you listen, I have the floor. I call on the chairman to instruct the Chief of Staff not to pass comments!'

Labor MK Mitzna: 'Landau has just accused the Chief of Staff of being a Sharon man'.

Shinui MK Lapid: 'Landau was obligated to say what he thinks'.

At this point, Chairman Yuval Steinitz of Likud told General Halutz that in committee Knesset Members were entitled to speak their mind and may say things which may or may not be justified. These were the parliamentary rules which had to be respected. The Chief of Staff then apologized for his comments; Landau stressed that recent IDF promotions, including the Chief of Staff, were all worthy. In an interview later, Mk Aryeh Eldad of the National Union charged that Halutz was a political appointment by Sharon because he went along with the disengagement.

Disengagement: The Chief of Staff said the IDF was now prepared to carry out the evacuation that is to start on August 17th. He spoke of 'good coordination with the Palestinian Authority at all levels' but contingency plans had also been drawn up for evacuating under Palestinian gunfire. Halutz noted that Hamas and not just the PA were in control on the Palestinian side. Nor did the PA exert control over the various Palestinian splinter groups involved in terrorism. The Chief of Staff stated the IDF will cope with Palestinian fire whether it is local or all-out in the Gaza Strip during the withdrawal. And he warned: 'We will react where we must but not where someone might expect us to react.'

Refuseniks: There were some 30 IDF soldiers who had refused to obey disengagement orders or expressed their refusal. General Halutz viewed this as 'minor' and did not expect that the number would expand during the evacuation itself. However he added there were those who were trying to influence soldiers to disobey evacuation orders. General Halutz took a grave view of the phenomenon saying the IDF would be 'aggressive' when it came to officers or commanders who must show an example. He did not pull his punches saying there were some heads of the Yeshivot Hesder religious seminaries who were spreading 'double talk' to religious soldiers about not carrying out disengagement orders. What were the soldiers to think when they heard their religious mentors calling the IDF an 'army that was expelling settlers.' (The Yeshivot Hesder soldiers combine religious studies with their IDF military service in their own combat units. MK Yossi Sarid of the left wing Meretz party called for the dismantling of the Yeshivot Hesder because the soldiers were now faced with the dilemma or following the orders of their IDF commanders or contradictory messages from their rabbis.)

London & Tel Aviv bombings: A senior IDF officer told the committee there was connection between the explosives in the London terror bombings and that used by the two Arab British terrorists who blew up the 'Mike's Place' club in Tel Aviv. A German magazine had reported that Israel's Mossad intelligence agency had informed the British that the explosives were identical.

Blair Correction: The AP news agency has issued a correction to its report quoting British Prime Minister Tony Blair as linking the London bombings to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. AP now says that Blair spoke of uprooting terrorism and that extreme Islam must be defeated in the Middle East.

David Essing

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