Military Advises Keeping Up Pinpoint Strikes

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adopted yesterday the advice of the Shin Bet and IDF to continue, for the time being, pinpoint attacks against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. He also vowed that Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip would not be conditional on the behavior of militant Palestinian organizations.

Also yesterday, the Israel Defense Forces received further authorization from the political leadership to broaden ground operations in the Gaza Strip, but no approval was granted to enter built-up areas, and most attacks against Qassam rocket crews will continue to be carried out from the air.

Meanwhile, Qassam attacks against Sderot continued, claiming the life of a 35-year-old computer specialist visiting a client there yesterday. Oshri Oz was killed in the morning, hit by one of the approximately dozen rockets to strike Sderot yesterday.

The prime minister's decision yesterday came following growing pressure in the cabinet to intensify military operations in response to the Qassam rockets on Sderot.

Supported by the assessments presented by Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin during the cabinet meeting, Olmert steadfastly rejected demands for harsher responses.

Diskin told the cabinet that Hamas is under intense and growing pressure in the Gaza Strip, and that while in the past the ratio of militants to innocent bystanders injured in air strikes was even, the numbers have improved considerably. The Shin Bet chief said this sort of accuracy allows Israel greater room to maneuver, suggesting that Hamas was not able to benefit from the support of outraged civilians witnessing the killing of innocents.

On Wednesday, Olmert will convene the security cabinet to discuss the situation along the border of the Strip.

Security sources predicted yesterday that a decision will be made in the meeting to escalate Israel's response to the Qassam attacks.

Preparations for such a escalation may already be underway - albeit on a limited scale.

In the coming days some reinforcements will be deployed to the Southern Command, but they will not enter the territory of the Palestinian Authority.

To date, only a limited number of infantry and armored units have been operating inside the Gaza Strip, mostly near the ruins of the evacuated settlements in the north, and the areas closest to Sderot. These are areas that have been identified as being used by rocket crews to launch their attacks.

Meanwhile, the air force continues to concentrate its efforts on rocket crews, Hamas command posts and other buildings, and senior militants in the Hamas military wing.

During the cabinet meeting yesterday, the prime minister vowed that Israel would carry out its operations in the Gaza Strip regardless of Hamas' actions.

"I cannot promise that our activities will be conditioned by the behavior of Hamas, whether it shoots at us or stops firing," Olmert told the cabinet.

"Even if there is an internal [Palestinian] agreement for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, and this agreement holds, it is valid only among the various factions. We need to prepare for a long-term confrontation, irrespective of the agreements between them, and use our capabilities according to the circumstances."

Olmert also pointed out that the efforts to carry Israel's message abroad regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip was paying dividends.

"It is important to note what the Saudis and the Egyptians are telling Hamas. They are saying 'what do you want from the Israelis? Stop shooting at them, they will stop shooting at you.'"

Some cabinet ministers were critical of what they described as Israel's restraint regarding the Qassam attacks.

"It is not logical for us to focus on pinpoint attacks while Sderot pays the price," Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said.

"Without creating a substantial deterrent effect we will continue being hit by Qassams. Beit Lahia and Beit Hanun are in peace only three kilometers from Sderot. Their next targets will be Ashkelon and Netivot."

In response, Olmert said the government "will do the maximum to protect and assist the residents. I want to thank Sderot's residents for their determination."

Defense Ministry Director-General Pinhas Buchris informed the cabinet yesterday that the steps taken to assist the population and plans for reinforcement of structures with security rooms have already seen between 200 and 250 private homes added.

National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer angrily told his cabinet colleagues that "the problem is not better protection. We need to alter the equation. We need to make it clear to the world that we have reached the end of our patience, and we should respond harshly."