Olmert and Barak deny ceasefire accord with Hamas – as does Hamas

Creating some confusion, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas insisted in Amman that a Gaza truce had been finalized. “Hamas wanted its leaders protected,” he remarked.
The first denial came from Israel’s defense minister Ehud Barak Monday, March 10, when he sharply rebuffed reports of a truce deal with Hamas and the scaling back of military operations in the Gaza Strip.
“There is no accord, nor is one close,” he stressed. “We will continue to fight until missile fire and terrorist attacks end and arms smuggling into Gaza is cut down. We are committed to these three goals.”
Until these goals are attained, we will take any military steps we think fit. But it is no one-off operation. The tough challenges are still to come.”
The minister spoke during a tour of the Technology and Logistics Base at Tel Hashomer outside Tel Aviv.
Referring to the two-day slowdown of missile fire from Gaza, Barak said no one should complain if Sapir College and Ashkelon are free of Grad and Qassam missile fire. “The military will do everything necessary to complete its mission, even if it faces long and tough challenges.” He noted that all sorts of considerations affect military decisions, such as weather conditions and the accessibility of targets.
Asked to respond to the grim intelligence report of threats facing Israel in the year go come, which was submitted to the cabinet Sunday, Barak said: “Israel is still the strongest nation in the region.”
debkafile‘s military sources pose a couple of questions raised by the defense minister’s remarks:
1. Are they backed by prime minister Ehud Olmert? debkafile‘s political sources reply in the negative. The prime minister has developed his own two-track strategy: While publicly pledging a series of military knockout blows against Hamas, he is privately engaged in indirect dialogue with Hamas representatives and forcing the IDF to hold its fire. Barak is trying to correct the public’s low opinion of this performance.
2. He correctly stated that a ceasefire deal with Hamas is nowhere near but he did not explain that the delay is not the result of Israel’s tough bargaining position but because Hamas keeps on raising new demands. The latest, endorsed Monday by Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, was that Israeli forces forego their counter-terror operations not only in Gaza, but on the West Bank too.
3. Israel is commonly accepted as the strongest nation in the region. However, the Olmert government’s military policies constantly transmit weak resolve and hesitancy. This was illustrated by its stop-go handling of the Palestinian missile escalation from Gaza. These tactics are eroding the IDF’s deterrent strength. If Israel concludes a ceasefire accord with Hamas from a position of weakness, the rockets and missiles will soon be flying again.

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