Defense Minister Amir Peretz warned Monday afternoon that he issued an "unequivocal order" to operate anywhere in Lebanon in order to curb rocket attacks on Israel should diplomatic efforts to end the fighting fail.
"The IDF will operate anywhere in Lebanon and we'll take over Katyusha launch sites in order to minimize the fire," Peretz said at the opening of a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee session at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Peretz noted that he toured the north Monday along with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and witnessed "amazing" motivation on the part of IDF troops. The defense minister said the sense among security forces is that the current campaign in Lebanon is one of the most important operations in Israel's history.
"We're at one of the critical junctions of the war and we're no longer referring to it as a military operation," he said. "The most important decision before us is curbing the Katyusha fire."
"It could end in two ways – one is through a diplomatic process, something that will change the equation regarding everything taking place on the northern border," Peretz said. "The other way would be without taking into consideration the (diplomatic) process being formulated."
Olmert, who met with 30 army reserve commanders during the tour, said “there are no restraints on the army; the people of Israel love their army and appreciate its determination. Most of the nation supports the operation and is willing to pay the price. The international community also sees the war in a different light.
Olmert with army reserve commnaders (Photo: GPO)
“War comes with death, pain and trauma; we are aware of this; but at the same time this is the moment to deal – both on the battlefield and in the home front. We are not stopping. The Katyusha fire must be stopped. A situation in which a million Israelis are confined to shelters is unacceptable; the army will not be restrained with regards to this matter.”
The defense minister also made it clear that both the diplomatic and military efforts were proceeding simultaneously, and said the minimization of Katyusha rockets will be achieved one way or another.
Beilin: Deeper incursion would be grave mistake
During the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Knesset Member Danny Yatom (Labor) argued that rocket attacks would not end even if the IDF reaches the Litani River in Lebanon.
"We can see this based on past experience as well," he said. "When we were on the Litani, Katyusha rockets continued to fall on (the northern town of) Kiryat Shmona."
Yatom argued that the time has come to start hitting Lebanese national infrastructure targets and not only Hizbullah targets.
"Lebanon is guilty and its infrastructures must be hit," he said. "We're almost done with Hizbullah targets, and now we need to hit Lebanese targets, its infrastructure, and government symbols."
Also during the session, Knesset Member Yossi Beilin (Meretz) warned against a deeper ground offensive and said "it would be a grave mistake to send the IDF to the Litani."
"Israeli began a just war that is now starting to lose its morality and effectiveness," Beilin said. "We achieved diplomatic accomplishments thus far and now is the time to engage in the utmost effort for a cease-fire."
However, Knesset Member Effie Eitam rejected the comments and said "we should have entered in the direction of the Litani more than 10 days ago," arguing that the IDF must provide northern residents with security.
"The IDF must move into any needed range in order to eliminate the Katyusha threat. The deceptive and pitiable Lebanese government cannot impose conditions for us after it raised the snake in its midst," Eitam said. "Lebanon must pay the price for supporting Hizbullah."