has decided to continue its military operation in Gaza, but is also examining diplomatic initiatives to end the fighting. So far, mediation offers have been made by senior American, Turkish, French and Egyptian officials, but none of the proposals meets the conditions set by Israel at this point.
"Operation Cast Lead
will continue, and will deepen until Israel's demands are met," a state official said.
The National Security Cabinet ratified
the decision to continue the military operation on Wednesday, in the format decided on eight days ago.
State officials have clarified that the first stage of the approved operation has not been exhausted yet. This stage, which is mostly comprised of airstrikes, will continue until the entire "bank of targets" is hit.
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces is preparing for the second stage, while mobilizing armor, infantry and artillery forces to the Gaza Strip border. The objectives of the second stage of Operation Cast Lead, which is expected to begin soon, have not been detailed for reasons of secrecy.
Nonetheless, the different mediation initiatives are being looked into in light of the international pressure on Israel to reach a ceasefire.
The American initiative is being led by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the French one by President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the Turkish one by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Egyptian one is being led by President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
A team headed by the prime minister's diplomatic advisor, Shalom Turgeman, is putting together all the diplomatic offers for a ceasefire for Ehud Olmert
In the meantime, none of the offers has led to the start of negotiations. According to the prime minister's approach, in the current fighting Israel must take an "achievement strategy" rather than look for an "exit strategy".
The Israeli demands defined by Turgeman's team are: A complete halt to terror from Gaza – including the firing of rockets and mortar shells; the establishment of an efficient international supervision mechanism which will enforce the agreements; an end to the smuggling and stopping the growth in Hamas' military power.
Turgeman, who is being guided directly by Olmert, has been briefing Defense Minister Ehud Barak
and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
The Israeli demands do not include the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit,
as this is not one of the goals of the operation. State officials have made it clear, however, that the prime minister would welcome Shalit's return home. They added that Shalit's release was an inseparable part of any internal or international discussion being held by Israel on Operation Cast Lead.
Official sources have said that the French offer, which included a "humanitarian ceasefire" for 48 hours, was rejected as it did not serve the Israeli interest to change the situation in the south completely and lead to a peaceful reality for residents living in the Gaza vicinity.
Israel is prepared, however, to look into another French initiative, which will be presented to Foreign Minister Livni on her visit to Paris on Thursday, and during French President Sarkozy's visit to Jerusalem on Monday.
At the same time, Israel is examining additional mediation efforts, including that of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, which is considered serious particularly in light of the good experience with the Turks on the Syrian channel. Qatar has also presented its own initiative.
"In terms of the diplomatic initiatives we are in the stage of throwing fishing rods, but seeing no fish," a senior official told Ynet." "In the meantime the military operation will continue until the first, aerial stage is exhausted. Simultaneously, the cabinet has already approved the second stage of the operation, and the forces are prepared, armed and trained.
"We have no plans to halt the military activity – which we have been forced into due to Hamas'
terrorist behavior – without the Israeli demands being fully met. This is not happening at the moment. Therefore, on the ground, Operation Cast Lead will continue and will be expanded."