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IDF Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky: 'Israel Cannot Ignore Indefinitely Hamas Rocketing Attacks From Gaza. Big IDF Ground Operation To Root Out Terror Infrastructure Is Matter Of Timing'

Annapolis Dilemma - How Can Prime Minister Olmert Help Shore Up Palestinian President Abbas Without Risking Israeli Vital Interests?

Moshe Kaplinski

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation will go to the conference table in Annapolis next month at the invitation of U.S. President George W. Bush. It's a command performance, neither Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert nor Palestinian West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas are likely to risk America's ire by refusing the invitation or being blamed for its failure. But IsraCast concludes that reality on the ground and the leadership status of Olmert and Abbas do not lend much credence for achieving a breakthrough.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Prime Minister sees Annapolis producing a joint declaration of principles, no more no less. By contrast, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas talks of focusing of the core issues of a total Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees not only to Palestine but also to Israel. Apparently in the Abbas view, the two state state solution means two states for the Palestinians.

Palestinian Terrorists

Meanwhile back in the Gaza Strip, Iranian backed Hamas added its input. Gaza terrorists added a full-fledged Grud-Katyusha rocket to their barrage of home-made Qassams and mortars that they launch at Israeli communities just over the border day in and day out. On the West Bank, Abbas appears to be doing nothing to exercise control over the terror organizations there except for cracking down on rival Hamas members. For his part, Olmert as one pundit puts it may have screwed up the Second Lebanon War but he's one hell of a lawyer when it comes to tieing in knots the Winograd Commission. The war panel cannot issue 'personal conclusion' to fire Olmert or anyone else without a lengthy legal process that could take a couple of years.

Without a call for his resignation, Olmert will be able to stay on. In this case, Labor party leader Ehud Barak would have to step up to the plate on his pledge to resign after the final Winograd report. Barak is obviously biding his time and trying to regain his lost prestige by building the IDF. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who also called for Olmert's resignation after the interim Winograd condemnation , will also have to take a stand. If Olmert were forced to resign, Livni and Barak could possibly join forces and form a new government without going to a new election. Then as now, the glue that binds Kadima and Labor is fear of a Netanyahu victory in an early ballot.

Speaking of Barak, the Defense Minister has disclosed that it will take Israel to develop a missile shield capable of knocking out 90% of incoming rockets. Paradoxically, Israel has already deployed the Arrow system capable of hitting sophisticated Iran's Shihab missiles but has yet to develop an answer to the primitive Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip which plague Israelis in Sderot and the Negev. In another security step, all Israeli civil airplanes are to be equipped with the Israeli missile defense system that already protects Israel Air Force aircraft from shoulder fired missiles. In light of these developments, obviously to counter preceived intelligence threats, is it concievable that Israel will be carrying out any foreseeable withdrawals on the West Bank that is adjacent to Ben-Gurion International airport?

Amid the peace process hype in his Knesset address this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there could be no West Bank withdrawals until terrorism had been eliminated. But beyond the statements of politicians, the IDF's former Deputy Chief of Staff General Moshe Kaplinsky gave a candid assessment of the Gaza situation and the Iranian nuclear threat in an interview with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

Now about to retire, the general pulled no punches when he said: 'We cannot ignore indefinitely the Hamas build-up and the continual launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip!' So how close is Israel to a major ground operation to root out the terror infrastructure in Gaza? The senior officer spoke of several steps still not employed. The Israeli government recently denounced Hamas controlled Gaza as a 'hostile entity' and this translated on the ground meant hitting the Hamas leadership. And the general added: 'I expect this will be the next step. Hitting the Hamas leadership is tantamount to taking out its military leaders'. He went on to say that applying the right 'civilian levers' also has the potential of weakening the Hamas regime (In retaliation to the rocketing from Gaza, the Israeli government also approved a cut in electricity and fuel that Israel still supplies the Gaza Strip).

In the general's view, the big ground operation was a matter of timing. And he added:' I think we are on the way to an escalation of the confrontation with the Gaza Strip . There may be no alternative to entering parts of Gaza for a lengthy time - it could take several months to dismantle the terror infrastructure '. Gen. Kaplinsky added that a systematic approach was required to cope with a guerilla warfare - there was no quick fix.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carried out a total Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip over two years ago. Rather than leading to a quietening of the area, Palestinian attacks have intensified. While the Israeli security fence has prevented nearly all cross border raids, the terrorists have resorted to launching thousands of rockets and mortars at Israeli towns and villages terrorizing the civilian population. So, did Israel err in evacuating Gaza? Gen. Kaplinsky said the bottom line was ' the results were not good'. Israeli communities were under under massive fire. However, the disengagement should be evaluated from the long term and not simplisticly. He noted that Israeli communities came under fire before and during the evacuation itself. But the general implies that Israel should have carried out a more vigorous reaction the first day after the withdrawal when the Palestinians exploited the evacuation to launch fresh attacks. If this had been done maybe the results would be different today.

So why wasn't it done? The senior officer replies: ' It's the perennial dilemma - when do you want to call it quits with the Palestinians? It's a political dilemma I can understand but I think that if we had reacted differently today's picture would be different'. ( At the time of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and not Hamas was in control of the area).

Iran: 'It's possible that Iran will go nuclear in 2009 or 2010. While declining to say how Israel should react, Gen. Kaplinsky felt that Israel's statements were very clear. The State of Israel could not live with such a threat or acquiesce in nuclear proliferation of the region. If and when Iran acquired nuclear weapons it would not only be Israel's problem - it would create a different Middle East and possibly a new world with different rules.

The Gaza deterioration is likely to get worse before it gets better and Israeli officials say no thanks to Egypt. The Egyptians are not doing enough to prevent the smuggling of weapons and explosives from their territory. Moreover, the Egyptian authorities recently allowed several dozen Hamas terrorists to enter Gaza in return for Hamas handing over an Al Qaeda operative sought by Cairo. And as Annapolis draws nears, Hamas can be expected to escalate its attacks on Israel. But despite the provocation, Jerusalem is obviously aware of the political capital President Bush has invested in Annapolis and will be wary of initiating any move that could torpedo the conference.

David Essing

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