VIDEO - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said after an emergency ministerial meeting late Wednesday that the government has authorized the IDF to crush the Hizbullah threat in the north, even at the price of rocket fire on Israeli territory.
The IDF soldiers killed in Lebanon on Wednesday are:
- First Sergeant Wissam Nazal, 27, from Jat-Yanuch
- Staff Sergeant Eyal Banin, 22, from Beer Sheva
- Sergeant First Class Shani Turgeman, 24, from Beit Shean
- Sergeant Nimrod Cohen 19, from Mitzpeh Shalem
- First Sergeant Alexei Kushnirsky, 21, from Nes Tziona
- Sergeant Yaniv Baron, 19, from Macabbim
- Sergeant Shlomi Yirmiyahu, 20, from Rishon Letzion
- Sergeant Gadi Musayeb, 20, from Akko
Hizbullah launched several mortar shells at the western sector Wednesday night, while IDF warplanes struck one of the organization's outposts as well as two bridges. Police officials in Lebanon reported that one civilian was killed and another 10 were injured in an Air Force attack near the town of Tyre in southwest Lebanon.
“We will confront the threat with determination and we will win this battle. This is not an easy test for the leadership, for security forces or for Israeli citizens. The rocket threat against Israel existed for many years. We did not choose to deal with it now, but the present reality obligates us to. We cannot be hostages to this threat,” Olmert asserted.
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The government authorized the “lieutenants’ forum” to make operative decisions, in both the military and international arenas, starting immediately, regarding action against Lebanon and Hizbullah.
“We will act,” Olmert declared decisively. “The scud threat from Syria did not stop us from acting. Would anyone think we wouldn’t act because of the scud threat?” he questioned.
The Cabinet was held in an extended forum owing to Israel’s additional front in the Gaza Strip in the south. During a meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Tel Aviv, the government was debriefed by intelligence chiefs, including heads of the Mossad, Shin Bet and GHQ.
According to the presentations by the intelligence chiefs, the present Hizbullah attack was expected. Further, they said Hizbullah would be happy to declare an immediate ceasefire and sit down to the negotiating table to discuss a prisoner exchange.
'A day of escalation'
Heads of the security establishment told ministers, “It is time for Israel to regain its deterrent capabilities on the northern border. Hizbullah has reared its head in the series of recent incidents, especially since the attack at Rajar.”
The emergency cabinet meeting lasted two hours, during which ministers expressed their views on the issue. Many of those present defined the meeting as “serious” and “intense.” Security officials urged the government to act based on the presumption that if the IDF acts, a reprisal of rocket attacks should be expected from the Hizbullah enemy.
The prime minister responded, “There are times when the state needs to protect its citizens, even at the price of the rocket threat or international tensions.” During the cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said he instructed the IDF and OC Homefront Command Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Gershon to prepare for rocket attacks.
Israel feared Hizbullah would retaliate to the IDF attacks with long-range rockets it keeps in south Lebanon; these improved rockets are capable of reaching populated areas in Haifa and even the Sharon region and can also strike strategic facilities such as the refineries near Haifa or the power station in Hadera.
The firing of rockets at these areas would put Israel in a situation it has not faced in decades.
Following the meeting it was it was revealed that Israel is demanding that the international community enforce Resolution 1559, which calls on the Lebanese government to control the internationally-recognized border between the two countries.
Furthermore, it was decided to continue the military activity in response to Hizbullah’s raid, which resulted in the death of eight soldiers and the kidnapping of two others.
Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said following the meeting, “the Israeli government conducted a long and heated debate. This is a day of escalation in our region. Naturally, we responded in such a situation; Lebanon is responsible."
“We do not deal with declarations of war, but Israel is entering a period of patience and determination," he said.
Prior to the meeting Olmert consulted with security officials. IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz advised the government to authorize a harsh operation that would "change the rules of the game."
Ahead of the special cabinet session, Defense Minister Amir Peretz authorized a series of operations against Hizbullah strongholds in southern Lebanon.
“Starting now I demand less talk and to let our actions speak. We know what to do, we need to finish preparing and start operating," said Peretz.
According to Peretz, Israel’s objective is to strike Hizbullah with such force that it ‘will be sorry it ever launched the attack.’
Olmert, for his part, said earlier that “the events this morning are not terror attacks but actions of a sovereign state that attacked Israel for no reason. The Lebanese government, of which Hizbullah is a member, is trying to destabilize regional stability. Lebanon is responsible and it will bear responsibility."
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report