Gov't to Give Gaza Arms Smuggling Top Priority in Diplomatic Meetings

Security cabinet votes to emphasize dangers of arms trafficking, but delay decision on expanded IDF operations.

Israel will give top priority to presenting the international community with the dangers of the ongoing arms smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, the security cabinet decided Sunday.

The security cabinet heard a series of briefings on the situation in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, in which the ongoing weapons smuggling was described as the cause of all the security problems in Gaza.

The ministers decided that in meetings with international officials Israel's representatives will raise the severe strategic danger caused by the arms smuggling through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israeli officials will additionally describe them as strengthening extremists and Hamas at the expense of Fatah and other moderate elements in the Gaza Strip, thwarting chances for diplomatic progress between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The security cabinet met to discuss Israel's response to Qassam rocket fire, even as at least three rockets were fired the western Negev. None of the missiles caused any damage or injuries.

At the end of the session, which lasted over four hours, the ministers decided to meet again next week in order to summarize the deliberations and approve operational plans for military action in the Gaza Strip.

In the meantime, the security cabinet decided that should the Israel Defense Forces be faced with a concrete threat that the army believes demands the expansion of military activity beyond the current government authorizations, then the move will require the approval of Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Peretz and the senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces are asking the security cabinet for more leeway in engaging hostile forces in the Gaza Strip. The IDF does not, however, recommend an extensive ground operation in the Strip.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, the former military chief who served as defense minister under Ariel Sharon, said Sunday that he opposed the reoccupation of Gaza, on the grounds that it would carry too high a price.

"I think that at this moment a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip won't bring solutions, said Mofaz. He added that he believed pinpoint air strikes against rocket launching squads and limited ground operations would be more effective.

During the meeting, the ministers heard presentations by intelligence and security personnel on the internal situation in Gaza and on various plans of action prepared by the IDF.

The ministers were briefed by the IDF chief of staff, the GOC southern command, the head of Military Intelligence, the head of the IDF operations directorate, the head of Shin Bet and another senior Shin Bet official, the head of the National Security Council, and senior Foreign Ministry officials.

At the beginning of the discussion, Olmert asked the ministers to turn off their cellular phones and remove the batteries.

Currently, the IDF is permitted to engage targets directly involved in the firing of rockets. The IDF is now requesting permission to engage targets regardless of their direct involvement.

Additionally, the IDF is seeking to station troops deeper inside the Strip, but only around the fence separating it from Israel. This is aimed at thwarting attempts to lay roadside bombs near the fence itself and to foil the Palestinian attempts to dig smuggling tunnels.

The IDF is also advocating in favor of partially renewing the policy of assassinating senior militants, primarily those who are involved in manufacturing and firing the rockets into Israel.

Peretz said in preparation for Sunday's meeting that entering the Gaza Strip should be seen as a last resort.

"No one wants to reenter Gaza, and take care of education and sewage there," he said on Saturday in Holon.