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PM Sharon: ‘If Palestinians Launch Shoulder Fired Anti-Aircraft Missiles At Israeli Crop Dusters Over Negev, IDF Will Hit Back Very Hard’

Senior IDF Officer: ‘Palestinians Have Fired Over Five Thousand Rockets and Shells At Israeli Settlements In Gaza During Four Years Of Violence’

P.M. Sharon (Photo: Amit Shabi)

In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reviewed the current state of his political and military thinking. In addition to warning that the IDF will react very severely, if the Palestinians attack Israeli civilians during next year’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, Sharon also took the wraps off several other burning issues.

Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen)

NEW PALESTINIAN MISSILE THREAT: Prime Minister Sharon said Israel has information the Palestinians have acquired shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Sharon warned the Palestinians against launching those missiles against Israeli ‘crop dusters’ spraying fields in the Negev inside Israel. The Prime Minister was adamant; the Palestinians shouldn’t even think about it, for if they did try to hit Israeli planes, the IDF would react very severely!

PALESTINIAN LEADER MUHMOUD ABBAS: Sharon was not happy about tough statements by Abbas about Palestinian refugees returning to Israel and a total Israeli withdrawal from the territories, including Jerusalem. The Prime Minister said: ‘It does not auger well for the future’. However Sharon added everything will be tested in practice and here he stressed he had made clear his position against the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and a return to the old ’67 borders. The Prime Minister repeated that Israeli settlement blocs in the territories must be a part of any deal.

Victims of Terror (Photo: Amit Shabi)

PALESTINIAN ELECTIONS: With the Palestinian elections coming slated for January 9th, hundreds of foreign monitors have started arrived in Israel. Sharon revealed that some are from countries that do not even have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Best known, on the U.S. team, will be former President Jimmy Carter who will be meeting Sharon. The Prime Minister said his office is in daily contact with the Palestinians and will do all it can to facilitate a fair and free ballot. He also hinted that although the IDF is acting to prevent the Palestinian mortar and rocket attacks, it is conducting any operations which might upset the election ‘apple cart’.

DISENGAGEMENT: Originally the cabinet was to have taken a final withdrawal decision in March. The vote has now been moved forward to January, after Attorney General Mazzuz ruled that a decision must be made six months before the start of the evacuation scheduled for late June. Sharon says this will not affect the overall timetable for the pull-out.After the election, if Muhmoud Abbas starts acting against terrorism, Sharon will be ready to coordinate security with the new Palestinian leader. The Prime Minister said: ‘We don’t expect the Palestinians to immediately start dismantling all the terror organizations, but we do expect them to do something against terrorism. He recalled that the Palestinian Authority has 30,000 armed security personnel under its control In Gaza and they could be sent to take control of the areas, the terrorists use, for rocketing Israeli targets. So far, the Palestinian Authority is doing nothing to halt the attacks.As we reported earlier, Sharon warned the IDF will hit back with all its might, if the Palestinians attack the Israeli families when they withdraw from the Gaza Strip next summer. He had made this clear to the Palestinian leadership as well as informing the U.S. and the Europeans. The Prime Minister declared: ‘There will be no Palestinian fire!’

FUTURE PEACE TALKS: Sharon had also made clear that if the terrorism continues after Israel’s evacuation ‘nothing will happen on the Roadmap’. Negotiations will be conducted only if the terrorism stops, the terror organizations are dismantled and the new Palestinian leadership implements the reforms stipulated in the first phase of the Roadmap proposal.

EGYPT: There has been a major improvement in relations recently and the Egyptians are interested in playing a greater role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon attached great importance to this development. But the Prime Minister added that although the Egyptians had started acting against the arms smuggling from Sinai into Gaza, they were not doing enough. For example, the Egyptians should expand their counter-smuggling operations deeper into Sinai, not just along the border with the Gaza Strip. The 750 Egyptian Border Guards will be deployed along the Philladelfi Corridor to prevent the tunnel smuggling. If this succeeds, the Egyptian force will be empowered to operate along the southern border up to Taba. Despite the current thaw in relations, Sharon has no inkling of a possible summit with President Hosni Mubarak. The return of the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel might be in the cards after the Palestinian election, but Sharon was not ready ‘to pay a price for it’.

ISRAELI REFUSENIKS & RESISTANCE: The Prime Minister takes very seriously the calls to oppose the evacuation and for IDF soldiers to refuse to obey their orders. All such attempts would fail and the disengagement would be carried out as planned and on schedule. Sharon criticized the 12 right wing MKs, who signed a petition to go to Gaza and to oppose the withdrawal. He charged they were jeopardizing Israeli democracy. Israeli policemen will enforce the actual evacuation with IDF soldiers deploying in an ‘envelope’ around the areas involved.

SHABAK SECURITY CHIEF DICHTER: Sharon and Dichter have agreed that the term of the Shabak Security chief should not be extended for an additional year. Sharon praised Dichter for doing an excellent job if combating the terrorism. However, the new Shabak law specified the term for the security service chief and they both thought it would not be good to override it by granting Dichter another year.

U.S. ‘PROBLEM’: The Prime Minister categorically denied that Washington has either ‘demanded or requested’ that Israel fire Amos Yaron as Director General of the Defense Ministry. And Sharon added: ‘I’m not saying that such a request would have been accepted’. U.S. Pentagon official Douglas Feith had allegedly demanded that Yaron be fired for lying to him about new Israeli arms sales to China. Sharon called Yaron one of the ‘finest, decent and bravest men’ he knows; the differences with the U.S. were being resolved through quiet channels. A former Israel Air Force Commander David Ivri has said that the differences arose out of a legitimate misunderstanding. In the U.S. any work or upgrading of American weapons sold to a foreign country requires a specific new export license. This is not the case in Israel where weapons, previously sold, can be worked on and sent back without being classified as a new sale. This was apparently the reason for the misunderstanding; when Feith asked Yaron whether Israel had sold China any new weapons and Yaron said no.

INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING: A Senior IDF intelligence officer told the committee that the Palestinian Authority was now characterized by both a political and a terrorist axis. ‘Our friend, Muhmoud Abbas was not ready yet to cope with the axis of terror, where Hamas and Fetah were going all out to prove that it was the ‘armed struggle’ which was driving Israel out of Gaza. On the other hand, Muhmoud Abbas rejected terrorism not because it was immoral, but because it harmed the Palestinian cause. For its part, Hamas favored focusing attacks inside the Gaza Strip while Islamic Jihad and other terror groups opted for attacking inside Israel. The IDF officer disclosed that recently the security forces have prevented serious attacks in the territories and elsewhere. In any case, Hamas declares it will continue terrorism despite what Muhmoud Abbas says. Brigadier Gadi Shamni of the IDF Operations branch disclosed that the Palestinians have fired over five thousand mortars and rockets in the Gaza Strip since they started the violence more than four years ago. Kfar Darom holds the record; its residents have been shelled and shot at some 3,500 times since September 2000.

David Essing

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