Photo: Gil Yohanan
Olmert 'doesn't foresee large ground operation in Gaza'
Prime minister, despite abandoning policy of restraint, chooses to stick to current, pinpoint military operations
"I don't foresee us undertaking a large ground operation that would take months or cause the IDF to get bogged down in Gaza," said Prime Mnister Ehud Olmert, Saturday night, to associates.


He said he would wait and consult with the security cabinet, which will convene Sunday afternoon in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. The ministers will give their opinions on briefs presented by the IDF, Shin Bet and Security Council last week.


A number of ministers, including Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Interior Minister Avi Dichter, are expected to demand expanded IDF action in the Gaza Strip.


Nonetheless, the majority's opinion is expected to be that extensive ground operation in the Gaza Strip should be approached with caution.


Within this context, Olmert instructed the defense establishment to continue its current mode of operation.  This is based on the estimation that chaos in Gaza may deteriorate into civil war and thus, Qassam rockets would be fired in Israel.


In the absence of planned wide-scale operation, Defense Minister Amir Peretz authorized the military to continue pinpoint attacks against Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was sent on a political advocacy campaign to explain the Qassam threat.


Targeted operations

In weekend talks with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, Olmert praised the IDF and defense establishment's activity in the Gaza Strip since the restraint policy was called off on Wednesday.


"The military operations are running according to instructions. The hits of Hamas targets are accurate. The military is taking care not to harm the innocent population," Olmert's aide said, expressing the prime ministers great satisfaction with the IDF's performance.


Olmert's aide also expressed satisfaction with the international support Israel was receiving for its actions in the Gaza Strip.


"All the countries of the free world justify Israel's defense of its citizens," the source said, "It is clear to the world, including Arab countries and moderate Palestinians, that Israel cannot restrain itself in the face of continued Qassam attacks, weapons smugglings from Sinai to the Gaza Strip, and Hamas' military strengthening."


Meanwhile, Olmert and Peretz agreed to expedite a state project to fortify Gaza vicinity towns. The prime minister also continues to speak with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in order to maintain bilateral dialogue.


Nonetheless, a senior source in the prime minister's office said that an actual meeting between Olmert and Abbas is not expected any time soon, since such a meeting has been delayed due to internal violence in Gaza.


"The problem is not on our side," sources in the prime minister's office said of the delay. "We're interested in the meeting, but given the current situation, we don't see how (a meeting) could take place."


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