Rice Returns to Region, IDF Operation on Back Burner
(IsraelNN.com) The IDF scaled back its military activities in Gaza Monday morning despite ongoing rocket, mortar and missile attacks on Israel in a hiatus which sources in Jerusalem said was due to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's expected arrival in Jerusalem Tuesday.
The US Secretary of State is expected to meet with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials in Ramallah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as well as other officials in Cairo.
Rice has backed Israel's right to defend itself, but called on the IDF to limit civilian casualties. Terrorists in Gaza have stepped up their attacks on Israel with hundreds of homemade Kassam rockets, mortar shells and Iranian-made Grad missiles since last week.
In retaliation, the IDF killed more than 100 terrorists and wounded hundreds more during its four-day "Operation Warm Winter." The multi-pronged attacks ended Monday when ground troops were withdrawn from northern Gaza.
Senior government sources said that the IDF's operations up to this point constituted "a very limited operation [that was] intended to show Hamas what could happen."
Rice is under increasing pressure to directly intervene in talks between Israel and the PA in view of the current impasse. Abbas announced Saturday night he was canceling talks with Israel until the IDF completely ceased counterterrorism operations in Gaza.
Jordanian King Abdullah II said last week in a speech at Princeton University that not much time remains for Rice to resolve the obstacles to a final agreement between Israel and the PA before President George W. Bush completes his term in office.
"Time is running out and we need the United States of America completely involved, to influence the course of discussions, monitor progress and help bridge the gaps to ensure a final agreement by the end of 2008," he said.
US author and Middle East analyst Aaron Miller told The New York Times on Monday that it will be impossible for Rice to resolve the issues between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Miller said Rice is "walking into a buzz saw," pointing out that any deal negotiated between Israel and the Fatah PA, it may be impossible to enforce.
"You cannot make peace with half of the Palestinian polity and go to war with the other half," he said. "This is beyond her capacity. Israel cannot make peace with a divided Palestine."
Although the government of PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas remains in control of Judea and Samaria, there also exists, in Gaza, the government ruled by Hamas terrorists who won the PA election in a landslide victory two years ago.
Hamas, which has vowed to destroy Israel, continues to maintain the stranglehold on Gaza it secured in its civil war with Fatah last June.
A more pressing matter is the question of how Israel can put an end to the increasing range and intensity of rocket attacks emanating from Gaza.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to discuss the dilemma faced by PA and Israeli negotiators when he meets with Rice in talks scheduled for Tuesday night.
Olmert met Monday with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and with the Security Cabinet as well to discuss the military's activities in Gaza thus far.
The IDF counterterrorism operations in the past several days "were not a one-time operation," he warned. "Everything is possible, [including] aerial and ground attacks. Everything is on the table for discussion." Dozens of rockets, mortars and missiles continued to rain down upon western Negev kibbutzim, towns and cities despite the extensive ground operations carried out since Thursday.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak echoed Olmert's words, emphasizing that the IDF is far from finished with the fight to end the attacks on southern Israel by Palestinian Authority terrorists in Gaza.