Peretz and IDF Officers Seek More Options in Responding to Qassam Launchers in Gaza Strip

Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces will ask the cabinet today for more leeway in engaging hostile forces in the Gaza Strip. The IDF does not, however, recommend an extensive ground operation in the Strip.

The cabinet's discussion today of the situation in the Gaza Strip will include ways of countering the Palestinians' firing of Qassam rockets into Israel. The ministers will also review reports concerning arms smuggling into the Strip along the border with Egypt and the consolidation of Hamas' military power.

The ministers will hear presentations by intelligence and security personnel on the internal situation in Gaza and on various plans of action prepared by the IDF. Foreign Ministry officials are expected to present the diplomatic ramifications of the various plans of action and proposed retaliatory measures. The potential effects of various actions on the home front will also be discussed.

Responses to the firing of Qassam rockets on the northern Negev - which have increased during the past month - are expected to dominate the discussion. 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.

Officials within the defense establishment have told Haaretz that the government is not expected to order a significant change in the employment of IDF forces with regard to the Strip. The sources attribute this to the government's shaky political situation and its desire to refrain from potentially controversial actions.

"The severity of the Israeli response to the firing of Qassam rockets depends on how many Israelis are wounded by Qassam rockets. Israel will not retaliate with force as long as only a few are injured as a result," the sources said.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz said in preparation of today'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," Peretz said yesterday in Holon.