Monday, November 20, 2006

Israeli Defense Minister to be Shut-out?

The Israeli Minister of Defense, Amir Peretz, contacted Mahmoud Abbas directly to conduct security talks. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is outraged and issued a very public rebuke. Now the Jerusalem Post is reporting that the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee is calling outright for his resignation.

Members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee called for the resignation of Defense Minster Amir Peretz in a meeting on Monday, in the wake of Sunday's telephone conversation between Peretz and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in which the defense minister urged the Palestinian Authority chairman to use his authority and do everything to stop the Kassam attacks. Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said that Peretz was an "expired man who almost never says anything new."

Beilin also called on the government to quit. "On Saturday one of Prime Minster Ehud Olmert's ministers says that we must eliminate the Hamas leadership and that Abu Mazen is no longer relevant, and on Monday another minister says that he spoke to the PA chairman and requested a ceasefire. There is no policy and no methodology."

MK Danny Neveh (Likud) reacted cynically to the Peretz-Abbas conversation, saying that the meeting should be cut short since "any minute Peretz will get a phone call from Abu Mazen." He added that Israel's security was disintegrating and that Hamas and Hizbullah were getting stronger. Neveh's fellow Likud MK, Yuval Steinitz, said that Peretz should have resigned a long time ago with the rest of the government. "Instead of proposing solutions he is pleading with Abu Mazen," he said. Steinitz called on the IDF to embark on an operation similar to Operation Defensive Shield.

MK Effi Eitam (NU-NRP) turned to Peretz during the meeting and exclaimed: "You and the chief of staff must resign immediately! You are both preventing the rejuvenation of the IDF." He went on say that the IDF soldiers had lost their faith in the two "because of the Second Lebanon War and your lack of ability in dealing with Kassam rocket attacks."

MK Zvi Hendel (NU-NRP) called on Peretz to sack IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz with immediate effect. "If you want to revive the IDF, the first thing that needs to be done is to show your chief of staff the door," said Hendel. At the end of the meeting, MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) also harshly criticized the Peretz, saying that the prime minister and the defense minister were refusing to make a decision on the IDF operation because of the "trauma" they were suffered in the Lebanon war. Peretz told the FADC members that he did not promise anything in his conversation with Abbas. "I told him that when there are concrete proposals to stop the Kassam rocket fire we will examine them," said the defense minister. Peretz also told the committee that he had no intention of detailing the IDF Gaza operation and "the IDF was instructed to act accordance with the effectiveness of its operations."

Earlier Monday, Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that Peretz should not have had any contact with Abbas about ending the Kassam rocket fire without consulting Prime Minster Ehud Olmert first. In an interview with Israel Radio, Peres added that any initiation of talks with the Palestinians was obliged to go through the prime minister. Abbas is set to meet Monday afternoon in Gaza with Palestinian factions to discuss the mutual cease-fire with Israel. A Palestinian source claimed Abu Mazen received, via a third party, guarantees from Israel that the IDF would cease its activities in the Gaza Strip in return for halting rocket fire.

Tension surfaced earlier Monday, between the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry in the wake of Sunday's Peretz-Abbas telephone conversation. The PMO expressed concern that the conversion and its exposure could have foiled Abbas's attempt to reach a ceasefire between Palestinian factions.

It will be interesting to see if Olmert moves to remove Peretz from the Defense Portfolio as Peretz is also the head of the Israeli Labor party which represents the second largest voting group in the Kadima coalition. Without the Labor party’s support, the Kadima coalition could fail. Certainly, the largest drop in presitage for the fighting prowness of the IDF has occurred under his stewardship - which is why Israel's enemies now feel perfectly safe to issue these kind of statements.

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