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WINDS OF WAR

Israel Considers Reaction To Hamas Rocket Barrage From Gaza Strip

Deputy Defense Minister Sneh: 'Israel Has No Interest In Escalation But Will Act To Lower Flames Of Terror Attacks'

Hamas: 'Our Tahdia Calm With Israel Is Over, We Will Continue Attacks'

Strong winds of war are again blowing in the Middle East after Hamas launched more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israel from the Gaza Strip. It was the most massive terror attack on Israel since Hamas agreed to a temporary cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is consulting with defense officials on how to react.

What has triggered the massive Hamas barrage at Israel from the Gaza Strip on Israel's 59th Independence Day? Razi Hamed, spokesman for the Palestinian government said it was a Hamas response to Israel's killing of nine gunmen on the West Bank recently. The five month temporary cease-fire in the Gaza Strip had more or less been honored by the Hamas-led government. But Hamed said the Hamas shelling was a response to Israel's killing of 9 terrorists on the West Bank in recent days. He told Israel Radio: 'The Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza are one people with one heart'. You can't kill Islamic Jihad or Hamas members on the West Bank without people in Gaza asking why nothing was being done about it. He charged that Israel had not taken up the Palestinian offer to enforce a 'Tahdia' calm also on the West Bank and there could not be a cease-fire in Gaza but not on the West Bank.

Mahmoud Abbas

On the other hand, the spokesman said the Hamas-led government was interested in continuing the lull and averting a deterioration. In Rome, Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel not to escalate explaining that the Hamas shelling was 'a one violation.' But this does not square with the facts on the ground. Since Israel's total evacuation of the Gaza Strip the terrorists have fired over 2,000 rockets and mortars at Israel from Gaza, many of them aimed at the Israeli town of Sderot during the so-called cease-fire. Abbas, who lost the last election to Hamas, also has proven time and again that he is powerless to keep his promise to halt the Palestinian terrorism. Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Abu Bida warned that the attacks would continue. In his words: 'Our attacks are a response to Israel's occupation. The rockets will now speak for Hamas, the Tahdia lull is over!'

Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said it was out of the question that every day Palestinian terrorists on the West Bank send suicide bombers and carry out other attacks and that Israel do nothing to stop them (The most serious threat was a truck packed with explosives that succeeded in entering Israel. The driver was a Palestinian who married an Israeli-Arab woman and used his Israeli identity card to ease his entry through roadblocks. Due to a malfunction of the explosives the truck later blew up back on the West Bank. If the massive truck-bomb would have caused catastrophic casualties if it had been detonated at a crowded Israeli location). Sneh went to say that Israel was conducting counter-terror measures to stem the terrorism and 'thankfully they have have proved successful recently'. He went on to say the calm must be bilateral and Israel now feels free to carry out actions it refrained from in recent months. And he added: 'Whoever tries to take us on will get what he deserves'. But might this not lead to an escalation with Hamas? Sneh replied that Israel had no interest in escalating the situation but it would take action 'to lower the flames as terrorism as much as possible'. This would be carried by a mix of offensive and defensive measures.

Bibi Netanyahu

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud has called for a major crackdown on the Gaza Strip which the terrorists had turned in to a second Lebanon. The Palestinians were rearming with weapons smuggled in from Egyptian controlled Sinai and were building strong fortresses. In his view, Hamas was preparing for war and Israel had no option but to eliminate this threat. He said the lesson of the Second Lebanon War was to prepare both the military and the home front for the confrontation that could spark a flareup in the north with Hezbollah. Israel was fed up with the worthless promises of Mahmoud Abbas who was no longer in power. Netanyahu declared that Israel had no alternative but to do what it takes to topple the Hamas government. This should also include a total closure of the Gaza Strip except for food, water and medical supplies.

Feelings are running high on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides today. Labor party cabinet minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer summed up the situation by saying: 'Israel cannot tolerate being held hostage indefinitely by a terror organization organization and the Gaza Strip is now the biggest terror base in the world'. Israeli military sources are quoted as saying Hamas planned the barrage as cover for attempting to abduct another IDF soldier. Ben Eliezer cracked: 'If Hamas did that again the IDF should go into Gaza and abduct Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from his home.' And the cabinet minister added that Israel must hit terrorist targets with all its might while still keeping open peace options such as the recent Arab initiative adopted in Riyadh. This could the most likely scenario. The government will order the IDF to put a stop to the Palestinian rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip but this could be by a mix of various offensive operations but not necessarily a a major invasion of the Gaza Strip.

David Essing

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