IDF Chief Ashkenazi Backs Wider Operation in Gaza Strip

The Israel Defense Forces should broaden the scope of its offensive action in the Gaza Strip, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has recommended in recent days. Ashkenazi nonetheless believes that it is best to avoid a massive ground operation in the Strip. The National Security Council, on the other hand, is recommending that Israel maintain its current policy in the region.

According to the Council's recommendation, Israel should express its willingness to achieving a cease-fire in the Strip, while reserving the freedom of military action in the West Bank.

Regardless of whose advice the cabinet will opt to follow, yesterday's foiled attempt by Islamic Jihad to kidnap an IDF soldier at Kissufim Crossing near the center of the Gaza Strip, proved yet again that secluded IDF posts along the fence separating the Strip from Israel are tempting targets for Palestinian terror organizations.

IDF troops fired at the Islamic Jihad detachment, chasing away its four members. They later killed one militant, who had been separated from the squad, near the army outpost they had planned to attack. An Islamic Jihad spokesman said that the Palestinian militants, who had infiltrated into southern Israel, had tried to take an IDF soldier into Gaza.

Ashkenazi had originally opposed invading Gaza based on various operational considerations, but he has since changed his stance, following Palestinian militants firing Qassam rockets from the Strip into Israel. In response, Ashkenazi has instructed Southern Command to prepare to mount incursions all across the Strip. These are not aimed at laying ambushes, but constitute broader penetrations into the Palestinian Authority's territory.

In the densely populated Gaza Strip, such incursions will probably include entering residential quarters and will not be confined to open spaces.

The National Security Council rejects this approach. After analyzing all the military scenarios for the current situation in the Gaza Strip, the Council recommended that it would be in Israel's best interests to adhere for now to its current political-military policy of applying moderate military pressure, while instituting financial sanctions.

The Council believes that Israel can reach an agreement for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, on the condition that the IDF maintain its freedom to act in the West Bank. In addition, the council is recommending an increase in the scope of actions aimed at protecting the civilian population of the home front.