First Palestinian anti-air gun fire against Israeli helicopters. Military option still on ice

For the first time in 9 years of Palestinian warfare, anti-air gun fire was directed from the ground against Israeli aircraft, debkafile‘s military sources report. The guns opened up Sunday night, Dec. 21, against Apache helicopters still over Nahal Oz, before they crossed into Gaza air space to strike the missile crews which launched more than 20 missiles against Israeli civilians that day.
The helicopters returned the fire, aiming at the anti-air weapons apparently mounted on vehicles hidden in the orchards of northern Gaza.
In line with the government’s decision Sunday to seek international backing for a potential military operation Gaza, Israel complained to the UN about the Palestinian missile and mortar attacks from Gaza which are terrorizing its southwestern population. Israel had the right to exercise its military option to defend the population of the targeted region, said the complaint.
Notwithstanding the severe escalation of Gaza attacks, a senior military source told debkafile that a substantive military raid is not on the IDF’s immediate agenda. The government led by Ehud Olmert and defense minister Ehud Barak would prefer its postponement up until mid-2009 or later.
Both are misrepresenting the dominant view in the military command, claiming it supports the renewal of the Gaza “ceasefire”. The source said: “I don’t know of a single general or high officer, including military intelligence and the southern command chiefs, who actually believe that renewing the six-month truce – which was anything but – is a good thing. But the prime minister and defense minister think otherwise.”
The missile alert declared around Gaza’s borders Friday, Dec. 19, when Hamas ended a six-month “truce” with a hail of missiles, has been extended to a radius of 30 km, including Ashdod, Kiryat Gath and Ofakim. Shin bet director Yuval Diskin warned the cabinet Sunday that Hamas has stockpiled missiles and rockets supplied by Iran and Syria which are capable of reaching the outskirts of Beersheba.
According to debkafile‘s political sources, Olmert is less focused on this peril than on his his drive to use his last weeks in office to polish his legacy – he is not running in the February 10 general election. He therefore hopes that the brief visit to Ankara he scheduled for Monday, Dec. 22, will generate the semblance of renewed talks with Syria along the Turkish-mediated indirect track which broke down three months ago. Olmert is also wary of authorizing a military initiative in Gaza after the only war he managed – the Lebanese conflict of 2006 – was universally rated a fiasco.
The prime minister’s meeting with Turkey’s Tayyep Recip Erdogan has raised hackles in both his own Kadima and Barak’s Labor circles. They fear he may be over-generous with promises of concessions to Syria for the sake of reviving the diplomatic momentum.
Opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, whose Likud leads all the polls, stated clearly Saturday that his government would not be bound by Olmert’s concessions or part with the Golan.
Both he and foreign minister Tzipi Livni of Kadima have pledged to oust the Hamas regime in Gaza if they gain office.
Egypt has cautioned Hamas that if it wants urgent fuel and food aid for the population to be delivered through the Gaza crossings, it must stop firing for 24 hours.

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