Will Olmert Give up Sderot too?

No sooner had Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert taken off for London, Paris and Berlin – against the advice of security experts – when defense minister Amir Peretz vetoed the IDF high command’s package of comprehensive measures to scotch the ongoing Hamas all-out missile offensive.
As it turned out, the first leg of the prime minister’s tour was mostly a waste of time; British prime minister Tony Blair declined to hear of his realignment plan for the West Bank, even though Olmert pledged 90% of the West Bank for a Palestinian state and a major effort to achieve a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians. He also omitted to endorse Olmert’s ringing declaration that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.
The Israeli leader’s entire trip is dogged by TV footage of a Palestinian child, 7 of whose relatives were killed in an explosion on Gaza beach last Friday. It is taken for granted that Israeli artillery was responsible, even though a military probe points strongly in the direction of a Hamas bomb trap laid on the beach for Israeli commandos.
With its prime minister far away, the small town of Sderot is being battered non-stop by Qassam missiles night and day from the Gaza Strip one kilometer away. One citizen was seriously injured, dozens suffered minor injures, the schools are shut for lack of shelters, and a steady exodus of refugees is depleting the struggling Negev town of 20,000 inhabitants.
The Hamas threat to turn Sderot into a ghost town is coming true.
Equally unprotected nearby villages and kibbutzim are taking damage to homes, schools and farms, day by day.
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal has accused the IDF of using only 5% of its resources to stop the barrage. The figure is arbitrary but his message is spot on.
After he returns home, Ehud Olmert will no longer be able to escape a decision to cut the Gordian knot and choose, after more than five years of neglect by one government after another, between saving Sderot by adopting the army’s recommendations – at the risk of casualties on both sides – or losing Sderot to a triumphant Hamas. The latter decision would bring about the most significant Israeli withdrawal from sovereign territory since 1948 and give the terrorists who rule the Palestinians a free bite of the Israeli Negev.
The town is forcing him to decide. Sderot, with its large immigrant population and unemployment, had had enough of being used for target practice by the Palestinian terrorists running loose in the Gaza Strip. Now that the Hamas has taken over the Qassam offensive, having ended its semi-truce with Israel last Thursday, June 8, the barrage has intensified tenfold.
Olmert’s Sderot dilemma is complicated:
1. The danger hanging over the Negev – and potentially central Israel – from the offensive waged by Israel’s most ruthless and implacable enemies, is the direct consequence of the unilateral pullback from the Gaza Strip which Ariel Sharon orchestrated last summer with Olmert’s enthusiastic help.
2. Because he cannot admit the blunder and draw the logical tactical conclusions, Israel’s military deterrent strength is being ground down.
3. Israeli ministers’ stop-go decision-making habits are further hobbling Israel’s military forces in their efforts to put a stop to the Qassam offensive from Gaza. The Olmert government appears more concerned with its international image and attuning its policies to Washington and Europe than the safety of its Negev citizens. Israeli artillery has been booming in their ears for months, uselessly shelling vacant ground in northern Gaza. The missiles keep on coming – but as each day goes by without an adequate Israeli military response, more people pack their possessions, lock up their houses and head north.
Sderot townspeople were joined for the first time Monday, June 12, by their kibbutz and village neighbors, who too are on the point of deserting their homes.
In these circumstances, the realignment plan Olmert is hard-selling to foreign leaders makes less and less sense. Any part of the West Bank Israel abandons for the sake of demarking its eastern border – as the prime minister puts it – will go the same way as Gaza. After the Negev, it will be the turn of Israel’s heartland to come into close proximity of the Palestinian terrorist bases that will be newly established there.
Palestinian violence and fractiousness will spread like a forest fire and threaten neighboring regimes. debkafile‘s Middle East sources report that this warning was conveyed by Jordan’s king Abdullah to President George W. Bush, in the name of the Saudi monarch and the Egyptian president, ahead of Olmert’s May 29 White House visit. The Jordanian king informed Bush that acceptance of any part of the Israeli prime minister’s realignment plan would lead to a rift b between America and the pro-US Arab governments of the Middle East.
The same message went out to the French and German leaders whom the Israeli prime minister meets later this week, namely, realignment will generate the same upsurge of violence, instability and damage to Israeli security as the Gaza disengagement – only more so. He would have done better to visit Sderot.

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