Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as opposed to what is being published on occasion, is not enthusiastic about escalating the IDF’s response to the sporadic rocket and mortar fire originating from Gaza. He knows that harsh responses will ultimately require the IDF to carry out a large-scale operation in the Strip which it does not wish to embark on at this time. Therefore, Olmert is adhering to the same restrained positions as Barak and Ashkenazi.
Yet this leaves many members of the Israeli public confused and mostly frustrated. Reports regarding Hamas' considerations in favor of and against the lull abound. Yet the considerations that prompt the Israeli government to openly declare that it wishes to see the lull go on are much less clearer to Israel's citizens. The statements made by the politicians lead us to understand that top security officials are curbing more hawkish actions, which many ministers support.
The explanations offered by Defense Minister Barak to the public fail to make it clear why the ministers - including Deputy PM Ramon, Foreign Minister Livni, and Transportation Minister Mofaz, among others - make do with belligerent statements, instead of uniting in order to enforce a belligerent decision in the cabinet. It is still unclear what Minister Barak and his deputy Vilnai mean when they say that the IDF is prepared to carry out a broad and creative series of Gaza operations, and will be carrying it out - at the "right time." What conditions are required in order to create this timing?
The key to deciphering all those question marks apparently has to do with the policy and action plan formulated by top security officials. The plan was approved by the kitchen-cabinet last week. We are dealing with a plan that is meant to secure several targets, including the release of Gilad Shalit and a long-term solution to the terror attacks originating in the Gaza Strip.
There is no way of knowing whether the policy and action plan are effective and whether they will secure the desired results. Their execution may prove that we are dealing with a complete fiasco. However, security officials are justifiably claiming that exposing the plan, and even exposing the considerations it is based on and the preparatory steps required for its successful execution, may jeopardize its outcome and the lives of IDF soldiers.
For that reason, the prime minister and senior ministers make sure to remain silent and vague - this includes making ministers and senior officials and officers sign declarations of secrecy. It is legitimate for the government and defense establishment to prevent such sensitive information from being revealed publicly. However, this requires government ministers to draw the right conclusions and maintain their restraint.
The vague statements made by ministers because of electoral considerations on the advice of their strategic advisors cause damage. On the one hand, they do not help the public in understanding and coping with the situation, yet on the other hand they may expose Israel’s intentions. Even the defense minister and foreign minister must behave responsibly now, overcome their urges, and remain silent.