herb keinon and yaakov katz,
Despite Monday's suicide attack in Eilat, the government will maintain its
policy of restraint in Gaza, in part so the warring Palestinian factions
will not have a reason to unite, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided on
Olmert met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other top security
officials to discuss Israel's response to the bombing, and decided that a
widespread military action in Gaza would, according to one government
official, "unite the Palestinians against us."
At the same time, the official said, it was decided that military action
against Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for the blast that killed
three people, would be permitted.
According to defense officials, the IDF is still "extremely limited" in its
ability to stop infiltrators and it is very possible that terrorists would
succeed in crossing the border from Egypt to Israel.
In addition to Olmert and Peretz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter,
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen.
Dan Halutz, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin and Israel Police Deputy Commissioner
Benny Kaniak took part in Tuesday's security consultations.
Defense officials continued to point an accusatory finger at Egypt, which
they said could do more to prevent infiltrations into Sinai from Gaza and
then into Israel.
On Tuesday, Division 80, responsible for securing the Egyptian-Israeli
border, beefed up its forces near Eilat. In addition, IDF liaison officers
asked their Egyptian counterparts to increase efforts to stop the terror
flow from Sinai into Israel.
"The Egyptians can do more," said one defense official on Tuesday. "It is
just a matter of whether they want to."
A diplomatic official said Israel had been pressing the Egyptians for years
to take more effective action on their side of the border to prevent arms
smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists, but to little avail. The
official said some in Sinai were making a lot of money through smuggling,
which includes not only arms and terrorists, but also drugs and women.
The official said that when Israel pressed the Egyptians on this matter,
Cairo's reflexive response was that they needed more personnel and security
equipment in the area to successfully fight the phenomenon, something Israel
is unlikely to agree to because of a long-term fear that the introduction of
more forces and weaponry could eventually create a strategic threat to
Jordan's King Abdullah phoned Olmert on Monday evening and urged Israel to
show restraint in its response to the Eilat attack.
According to a statement released by the official Jordanian Petra news
agency, Abdullah "stressed the need for accelerating the peace process to
avert any attempt to undermine efforts to restore negotiation between the
Palestinians and Israelis."
A Israeli diplomatic official said that this was Jordanian diplomatic-speak
for calling on Israel to continue its policy of restraint.
According to the Jordanian statement, Abdullah condemned the Eilat attack
and expressed hope that it would "not affect the reviving of the peace
Peretz, who left for Belgium Tuesday in his first state visit abroad,
visited Eilat and promised that the IDF would step up patrols along the
border in an effort to prevent future infiltrations.
"We will step up operations and deal with this type of terrorist activity,"
Peretz said. "We will do everything to defend our civilians and prevent
damage to the tourism industry in the city."
Israeli officials, meanwhile, emphatically denied that an IAF aircraft
bombing of a terror tunnel near the Karni Crossing in the northern Gaza
Strip Tuesday morning was in response to the Eilat attack. No casualties
were reported in the air strike, which was the first IDF action within the
Gaza Strip since a cease-fire took effect two months ago.
The officials said intelligence information indicated Palestinians planned
to use the tunnel to blow up the Karni Crossing. The officials said the
attack on the tunnel was approved on Thursday evening - well before the
suicide bombing in Eilat - by the political echelon, after the Palestinians
failed to destroy the tunnel..
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