Jerusalem – As the in-fighting between Hamas and Fatah escalated to levels not seen for nearly a year, Israel’s political leadership decided to authorize military steps against opposing attackers, including rocket- launching parties and field commanders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
However, no large-scale incursion into the Gaza Strip has yet been announced despite Hamas’ efforts to bring Israel into its conflict.
All indications are that the senior political echelon of the Hamas government will continue to have immunity for now, even though the Hamas leaders use the airwaves of the Palestinian Authority to openly call for more missiles to be fired against Israeli civilian communities.
A source in the prime minister’s office did say to the leading Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, that in the event of continued rocket fire, the prime minister may authorize attacks targeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The Israeli Army Southern Command has tried in the past few days to promote a plan for a more severe response, but it was blocked.
Sources in the Gaza Division and in the Southern Command have voiced extreme frustration that they were not given authorization to respond sharply to the missile barrage from Gaza.
Israeli Army Southern Commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant and Israeli Army Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Moshe Tamir toured Sderot and found it difficult to provide explanations for the army’s low-key response.
Over 40 missiles fired from Gaza hit Sderot and the communities in the Western Negev on Wednesday and Thursday, injuring more than 40 residents of Sderot.
After a Russian-born billionaire, Arkady Gaidamak evacuated several dozen families from the city to hotels in Beer Sheva and Ashdod. The Sderot municipality, in cooperation with the Israel Defense Ministry, announced that it will evacuate residents who wish to leave for short-term rest periods around the country.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for his part, objected to evacuating residents from the beleaguered city, saying, “Pictures of the evacuation of residents are just what Hamas wants.”
However, Olmert’s office would not comment on a study of Sderot’s large public shelters which could sleep Sderot’s entire population of 20,000, as to why Olmert’s office would not provide the necessary $1.5 million to fund the repair of 25 of the 57 public shelters in Sderot that are not fit for human habitation. These 25 shelters have no electricity, no kitchen, refrigerator, no air-conditioning or no infrastructure needed for a prolonged stay.
Over the past six months, the UJC, the United Jewish Communities, an umbrella philanthropic organization from the U.S., dispatched volunteer groups to Israel to help repair and prepare shelters in Israel for all eventualities. However, the Israeli government referred all shelter volunteer groups to the northern part of the country, and would not refer volunteers to help prepare the shelters in Sderot or the Western Negev. No reason given.
To add fuel to the fire, a Knesset parliamentary member of Olmert’s own Kadima political party, Member of Knesset Shai Hermesh, whose family lives in the Western Negev, revealed on the Israel Government VOICE OF ISRAEL radio newsreel that on Jan. 2, Olmert had allocated more than $75 million for protection and improvement of public buildings, apartment complexes and shelters, but that Olmert had not transferred the funds for this purpose, leaving public buildings, apartment complexes and shelters in inadequately protected. Hermesh warned that the next investigation of Olmert’s mishandling of the Western Negev and Sderot would be even worse than the results of the investigation of Olmert’s handling of the summer 2006 war in Lebanon.
Intelligence information collected by the Israeli defense establishment indicates that Gaza terror groups have Soviet-made Grad missiles with 22-km range and that terror groups may soon target Ashkelon, Israel’s strategically important southern port city. Ashkelon, a city of 115,000, hosts many important defense installations, along with the power station that feeds the electric supply to the entire southern region of Israel.
U.S. Government Concerned
The U.S. has voiced concern over the violence in the Gaza Strip. State Department Spokesman Tom Casey called on the Palestinian factions to behave responsibly and said the violence does not support their interests and does not contribute to establishment of an independent Palestinian state. He added that the violence casts doubt on the U.S. plan to provide $60 million to the security forces of PA Chairman Abbas. Casey also called on Abbas to put a stop to the Kassam rocket fire at Israel and said the Palestinian Authority is responsible for halting all terrorist activity against Israel.
It will be recalled that in Prime Minister Olmert’s last meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice that Olmert remarked to Rice that Abbas could not be counted upon to retrieve a lost bicycle.
As this report was being filed, highly placed sources in the U.S. government gave a green light to the Israeli government to take any military action it deemed necessary in Gaza at this time.
David Bedein?Can Be Reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com.
©The Bulletin 2007