Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Thursday following the rocket attack on Haifa: "We expected Hizbullah to break the rules and now we are going to break them."
Peretz, who spoke to reporters as he was leaving a special situation evaluation meeting in Tel Aviv attended by IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and other top security establishment officials, said that “we have deaths deep inside Israeli territory. We will strike the organization that broke the rules and wants to lead the entire Middle East into a tailspin."
“All sovereign regimes in the region must know that they too bear responsibility, and we have no intention of letting any element responsible for this crisis off the hook,” he said. “I say to Israel’s citizens: We may be in for a number of difficult days, but we must remain strong so that after this period is over we will not be in a position in which Israeli children and citizens are threatened by any element in the Middle East.”
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Israel took a Hizbullah attack on Haifa into account.
“That is the aim of this operation – to prevent the continued threat on Israel by Hizbullah," he told Ynet.
Peres said Israel has no intention to harm Lebanese civilians, but warned that civilians who live near Hizbullah weapon caches were in danger.
"Because we know that some of their rocket caches, which are fired at Israel, are hidden in private apartments, I call on these residents to leave their homes. He who lives near a rocket is likely to get hurt," he said.
Peres articulately lashed out at Hizbullah: "Hizbullah kidnapped the Lebanese government. Hizbullah also kidnapped the Lebanese border. The Lebanese army needs to redeploy along the border. We have no problems with the Lebanese government."
Peres answered calls by US President George W. Bush on Israel to avoid weakening the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
"We are fighting Hizbullah and asking the Lebanese government to take control of its international border with Israel. Our interest is to keep Lebanon whole. Overcoming the threat of Hizbullah will free Lebanon," he said.
Dichter: We have power to change situation
However, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter spoke to Ynet about the possibility of Syrian troops getting involved: "My advice to Bashar Assad is that he who has butter on the head should not stand in the sun. The world remembers that Assad is responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. I don't think Syria has an interest to get involved."
Speaking about the missile that landed in Haifa, Dichter said: "We need to view Katyushas like suicide bombers. We knew they had this capability and it was taken into account in government discussions ahead of the operation. The prime minister warned of that. We have the capability to respond, but after a tour of the northern border where rockets had fallen I also know that we have a strong nation which is strengthening the consensus in favor of the operation despite the casualties suffered in northern communities."
Asked to comment on remarks made by Peretz that the IDF aims at keeping Hizbullah away from the border, Dichter said the target is possible.
"It is a logical target, and absolutely not ambitious. We have international recognition, especially from the United Nations, which has recognized the border with Lebanon as an international border which has to be controlled by an army. We need to be on one side and the Lebanese government on the other. There is no place for Hizbullah there," he said.
Dichter concluded by saying that as an Ashkelon resident he did not distinguish between Katyusha rocket attack in the north and Qassam attacks in the south.
"That's terror and that's terror and we are fighting both despite Katyushas being capable of inflicting much more damage. The situation is not easy but in the end we have the possibility to deter and change the situation in Gaza and on the northern border," he said.