JERUSALEM ø Israel's military brass has pressed the government for a
major operation in the Gaza Strip.
Officials said the military has cited a Palestinian missile and rocket
buildup in several cities in the Gaza Strip. They said such groups as the
ruling Fatah movement as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are bolstering
their missile, rocket and mortar capability and plan to intensify attacks,
including suicide strikes, inside Israel.
"In the light of the intensification of the activities of the terrorist
organizations over the last few weeks, we will intensify our anti-terror
operations," Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon said. "In this kind of
situation, attack is the best form of defense."
So far, the military has received government approval to resume Israel
Air Force operations against leading Palestinian insurgents in the Gaza
Strip. On Saturday, three Islamic Jihad operatives, including a senior
commander, were killed in a helicopter missile strike in Gaza City.
Officials said Ya'alon has argued that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
plans to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip has emboldened
insurgents and intensified the struggle for control over the area. The chief
of staff said Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was expected to
approve an offensive against Israel to divert attention from the power
struggle in the Gaza Strip.
[On Wednesday, Sharon acknowledged that he had business dealings with
the family of Col. Elhanan Tannenbaum, accused of being abducted by
Hizbullah during his attempt to complete an illegal drug deal. Sharon was
said to have ordered a quick and pressure-free interrogation of Tannenbaum
and approved a deal that would grant him immunity from criminal prosecution
in exchange for his cooperation.]
Israeli authorities have placed police and troops on alert for a suicide
bombing in either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. A police commander said on
Wednesday that authorities prevented a major suicide attack in Tel Aviv. The
commander, Yossi Setboim, refused to elaborate, but reported that
authorities have ended their alert of a Palestinian suicide bomber in Tel
Ya'alon was said to have ordered Southern Command, responsible for the
Gaza Strip, to intensify operations against Palestinian insurgents in an
effort to eliminate as many operatives before an Israeli withdrawal from the
area. But officials said the Israeli military will not leave the strip
Ya'alon has warned against elements of Sharon's withdrawal plan,
particularly that which would hand over responsibility of border areas to
either the Palestinians or neighboring Egypt. Sharon has offered a revision
of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty to allow for Egyptian troops to
deploy along the border with the Gaza Strip.
In testimony to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on
Tuesday, Ya'alon said the border area must remain in Israeli control. He
said the so-called Philadelphia corridor along the divided city of Rafah has
been the major route for weapons smuggling for Palestinian insurgents.