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MEANWHILE, BACK IN GAZA

Palestinians Fire Seven Qassams At Israel

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi: 'The Hamas Military Buildup In Gaza Must Be Resolved One Way Or Another'

Deputy Premier Shimon Peres: 'The Arabs Cannot Dictate To Israel No More Than Israel Can Dictate To Arabs'

Palestinian terrorists firing missiles

On the very day the Arab League was convening in Saudi Arabia to approve their peace plan, Palestinian terrorists launched seven more Qassam rockets at Israel. For the first time since last November, Israeli helicopters went into action to strike the rocket launchers. In the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, the new IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi that the Hamas military buildup in Gaza must be eliminated one way or another. IsraCast presents a detailed assessment of major changes being implemented by the new Chief of Staff in light of the Second Lebanon War.

March 28th: In Riyadh, members of the Arab League approved their peace offer to Israel without any changes. Arab League Secretary Amr Musa declared that Israel must first accept the plan that calls for a total withdrawal to the old 1967 lines and the return of the Palestinian refugees. The two sides could discuss the details later on. In a radio interview back in Israel, Deputy Premier Shimon Peres replied ' thanks but no thanks'. Peres said: 'The Arabs cannot dictate to Israel anymore than Israel can dictate to the Arabs'. And Peres added the only way to resolve the conflict was by negotiations. While the Arab representatives were meeting in Saudi Arabia, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip were again launching Qassam rockets at Israel. Seven this time - four of the rockets landed in agricultural areas but there were no casualties. For the first time since last November, IDF helicopters flew into action striking the rocket launchers. Three of the terrorists were hit while preparing to fire more Qassams from inside the former Israeli settlement of Dugit which was evacuated in the Israeli withdrawal in the summer of 2005.

The IDF commander in the south, Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant said that since the pullout, the Palestinians have launched some 2,000 Qassams at Israel. Defense Minister Amir Peretz lives in the town of Sderot, the Palestinians' favorite target, and he said Israel was interested in maintaining the quiet but there was a limit. He was aware that extremist Palestinians were continually trying to heat up the situation but: 'As a resident of Sderot, I can say it makes no difference when the rocket explodes whether it was fired by Jihad, Fatah or Hamas!'

Gabi Ashkenazi (left), IDF Chief of Staff (Photo:IDF spokesman)

While the action was going on, the new IDF Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi gave his first briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee. Gen. Ashkenazi warned that Palestinian terrorism has not ceased and Hamas was continuing its military buildup in Gaza by smuggling weapons from Egyptian controlled Sinai. In his words' This requires one solution or another '. He noted the quantity and quality of the terrorist weaponry as well as sophisticated  operational planning. The Chief of Staff gave the impression this Hamas buildup was reaching an intolerable level. One of his goals was to prevent the buildup from carrying over to the West Bank. There the IDF was conducting nightly raids to smash suicide bomber rings.

Hezbollah: The situation along the the Lebanese frontier remained 'sensitive and unstable'. On the positive side, Hezbollah was no longer the sovereign power in southern Lebanon in the manner it was before the outbreak of last summer's war. The new U.N. UNIFIL force was performing 'not bad ' in blocking Hezbollah arms supplies to the border area and was cramping Hezbollah's freedom of movement. However, Hezbollah was rebuilding its strategic capabilities and preparing for another war.

Syria: Damascus was on a buying spree of weapons mainly anti-aircraft defenses. But Gen. Ashkenazi added that although the Syrians were building up their forces and had upgraded their readiness he did not identify any signs of an offensive initiative. Then he added that since the IDF did  not know everything, it had also strengthened its forces on the Golan Heights.

Iran: Tehran was determined to continue its nuclear weapons program which posed a threat to Israel's existence. At the same time, Iran was playing a negative role in the region by supporting terror organizations, Syria and in Iraq. The Chief of staff concluded: 'As an army, we must be prepared to cope with the Iranian threat '.

World Jihad: 'We have identified this terrorist threat moving closer to Israel from Sinai, Lebanon and Jordan and there is a potential for a deterioration in the situation'. This required a higher level of IDF preparedness and operational capability.

The MKs later praised Gen. Ashkenazi saying that despite the vast array of threats facing the Jewish state the  soft spoken commander, who served in the vaunted Golani infantry brigade, exuded authority and impressive competence. He had studied the lessons of the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah, drawn the conclusions and was implementing them systematically in all units of the IDF. And Gen. Ashkenazi stated firmly: ' Under my command, there will be no repetition about who wins or loses as there was in the Second Lebanon War with Hezbollah'. ( Former IDF commander Dan Halutz  said that Israel had won 'on points' but  many Israelis agreed with Hezbollah leader Nasrallah who claimed to have defeated Israel). A regime of training at all levels was now underway at all levels in the IDF from divisional command  on down.  This would mean more duty for reservists. On this score, he spoke of high morale in the reserve units and a willingness to cooperate. All they asked was not to waste their time, to train for specific missions and to receive clear orders. During the last war, combat units sometimes complained about getting convoluted orders from the high command.

The new Chief of Staff spends much of his time inspecting combat units and meeting with officers and men. He gave the impression of knowing exactly what must be done in order not to repeat mistakes made in the last war. One was the element of time and failing to complete missions for one reason or another. Gen. Ashkenazi  made clear this will not happen on his watch. Combat units are now training and being equipped to a level of proficiency that will enable them to carry out clear cut orders. He stressed the importance of every unit being capable of doing so and quickly.  His message is that the IDF is going back to basics and he will be there to see that it does.  All the Knesset members left the briefing deeply impressd... some said: 'We'll be able to sleep better at night'. If Gen. Ashkenazi has aroused the same enthusiasm among the officers and ranks of the IDF, the whole country can take heart.

David Essing

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