Israel 'planning Gaza invasion'

A day after Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, called for a regional peace conference with Arab states, his defence minister said his forces had received authorisation to begin new military actions in Gaza.

Israel 'planning Gaza invasion'

ByTom Spender in Jerusalem

A day after Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, called for a regionalpeace conference with Arab states, his defence minister said his forces hadreceived authorisation to begin new military actions in Gaza.

Amir Peretz said Israeli intelligence indicated that Hamas, which leads thePalestinian government, was rearming and planning attacks.

The Israel military hassaid that it has finalised preparations for incursions it says are to tackle thethreat of Qassam rockets fired from Gazaat Israeli towns.

The Israeli media quoted the military as saying that between lastNovember, when a ceasefire deal was agreed, and the end of last month, 185rockets had been fired, 152 of which reached Israeli territory.

On the diplomatic front, Israelis reaching out to Arab states such as Saudi Arabia - but it hasrefused to deal with the new Palestinian unity government.

Hamas has so far refused to recognise Israel's existence and hasreiterated the right of Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation ofPalestinian land.

Reservist Brigadier General Tzika Fogel says such conditions of attritionleave the Jewish state no choice but to reoccupy Gaza to prevent a future war and crush Hamasonce and for all.

He says Hamas is building up a Hezbollah-style military capacity and claimedthat Western and regional countries would support an offensive to remove it.

"Hamas is working towards the point that they will be like Hezbollah.At that point they will start the war and it will not be good for Israel. Wecan't let them start the war. We will lose a lot of respect," he said.

"The last thing the West wants is for Hamas to have its own country. Itwill be an Al Qaeda zone. So Israel,the Arab countries and the free world all want us to begin a war and winit."
 
Pre-emptive strike

Fogel, a former Israeli army second-in-command for the southern territorieswho says he is regularly called up for active duty as a reservist, believesthat the Israeli military has completed its preparations and is ready toreoccupy the Gaza Strip - except Gaza City - for up to six months.

He says the invasion of the area could begin as early as April 15.
 
"It will not be before April 15 because that's the end of [the Jewishholiday of] Passover, and to be on the safe side it will not be after June 15,because we want it to be finished before the winter." 
 
"We have 200,000 Israelis living in fear of attack. Their towns aregetting more and more like bunkers. But the Palestinians don't really want tohit us with their rockets.

"They have been using the last four months just to train their people,not to damage the Israeli side."

In recent days, Israeli media quoted military intelligence reports thatHamas was rearming with advanced weaponry and boosting its defences by buildingtunnels and booby-trapping several incursion points.

But the Israeli military has declined to comment on Fogel'sremarks.

A spokeswoman said: "This officer has retired and has nothing to dowith the army any more. We don't want to talk about anything he said."
 
Diplomacy versus war

For their part, Palestinian officials have said that any military strikeinto the Gaza Strip would indicate the credibility of Israel's claimsto be a country seeking peace.

Khaled Abu Hillel, spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry, said:"We have a unity government that unites the Palestinian people behind asingle programme. Any step Israeltakes against this government shows that they are neither ready for nor wantpeace".

Palestinian analysts have also said an Israeli invasion of Gaza could wreck chances for a peace dealwith the Arab world and prompt international criticism.
 
Jehad Hamad, a professor of political sociology at Al Azhar University in Gaza City,said: "The Meccaagreement showed that Hamas is willing to be part of a rational Palestinianprogramme. 
 
"Israelwill take a hard line against this. But if they invade there would be a hugelynegative reaction internationally. It will not help them make a deal with the Arabworld, which has made it clear it wants peace."

Undeterred
 
But Fogel said Israelwould invade regardless of the potential damage to its image.
 
"If Israel initiatesthe war, the world will give us the same time window and expectation as theygave us at the beginning of the second Lebanon war," he said.
 
"There's no other choice. Hamas is a part of real Islamism. It's a threatto Egypt, Jordan and Lebanonand they want that we finish the power of Hamas in Gaza. They can't say it but they do want it."
 
Fogel said previous campaigns against Hamas failed and the Israelimilitary would need to employ new tactics against them.
 
"It's like a big swamp – you have to dry it. You have to go house by houseeverywhere. We cannot simply repeat what we have done before – it leads tonothing."
 
'Humanitarian disaster'
 
Not everyone in Israel,however, believes that Hamas is looking for a Hezbollah-style war ofattrition with Israel.

Zeev Schiff, a military analyst at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz,said: "I don't think Hamas wants to get into a large-scale war. It wantsto build itself up. It needs a few clashes but they prefer a kind of ceasefire.

"So Israel can acthere and there, but I don't think we are going to go big in Gaza unless something big happens first. Inthe army you have all sorts of opinions, but in the end it's up to thepolitical echelon."

In an interview late last week, Olmert did not rule out a militarystrike in Gaza,but he said it would not be the first course of action he would take.

Meanwhile, the UN said any Israeli invasion of Gaza would worsen already poor livingconditions.
 
David Shearer, head of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of HumanitarianAffairs in Jerusalem,said: "An invasion would be a disaster from a humanitarian point of view.Things are bad enough as it is and it would make them seriously worse."
 
About 400 Palestinians died last year during Israeli incursions into Gaza, he said.

 

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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