Barak: We are heading for a major ground operation to stamp out Palestinian missile attacks and curb the Hamas military buildup September 6, 2007, 7:03 AM (GMT+02:00) The Philadelphi Route – a Middle East flashpoint 11 km long, 100 m wide.
This statement came Wednesday from Israel’s defense minister at a meeting of security chiefs after a special defense cabinet session on ways to halt the Qassam missile barrage from Gaza. DEBKAfile’s military sources say the first part of the operation has begun.
Wednesday, Sept 5, Israeli forces were present in N. Gaza in sufficient strength to catch and destroy 11 missile launchers ready to go, which DEBKAfile also reports Iranian smuggling rings had spirited into Gaza through Sinai. Tuesday, DEBKAfile disclosed exclusively that Israel had warned Egypt that it was left with no choice but military action to recapture the Philadelphi route bordering Egypt to halt this illicit traffic - part two of the operation.
The decision followed the upsurge of missile fire against Sderot and the Egyptian forces’ discovery in Sinai of several dozen 240 mm Katyusha rockets, the first addressed to Hamas and Jihad Islami of the type used by Hizballah to blast northern Israel last year. The rockets were found in a cache with 2.7 tons of explosives. DEBKAfile’s military sources disclosed that the message delivered Monday, Sept. 3, meant Israeli armed forces were standing by for an order to recapture the Philadelphi route running along the southern Gaza border with Egypt. From Gaza, these rockets can reach the southern approaches of Beersheba, not just the towns of Ashkelon and Netivot.
According to intelligence input, the rockets were intended for immediate use by the two Palestinian groups. This information convinced Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi that radical military action can no longer be delayed. They decided that the Philadelphi route - evacuated by Israel two years ago with the rest of the Gaza Strip - would have to be retaken. DEBKAfile’s military sources add that Israel sent the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas an abbreviated version of the warning to Cairo.
The message to Egypt contained full operational details to emphasize that Israel has no wish to infringe on Egyptian sovereignty. It left an opening for President Hosni Mubarak to avert the Israeli operation by ordering Egyptian security forces to take full control of the Egyptian-Gaza border sector. Senior Israeli officials strongly doubt this will happen and expect it to be left to the IDF. They are taking into account that all the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip will be led by Hamas and Jihad Islami in a violent response to Israel’s capture of Philadelphi by emptying their missile stocks on Israeli towns and villages in addition to Sderot.
Tuesday, Sept. 4, therefore, defense minister Barak extended the “special situation” decree governing the border region around Gaza by 48 hours. This emergency decree grants the IDF’s Southern Command competence over civilian affairs, such as opening and closing schools, medical facilities and factories, the evacuate of civilians if warranted by the security situation, and authorizing war damages to institutions, businesses and private citizens. At the end of 48 hours, the defense minister will request a further extension, possibly for a month, from the government, followed by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. Source Debka