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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Security cabinet approves push to Litani

After a six-hour meeting, Israel's 'security cabinet' approved the expansion of the IDF ground operation in Lebanon to the Litani River and beyond. The vote was 9-0 with three abstentions (Shimon Peres, Ophir Paz-Pines or Pines-Paz - whatever order the names are in this week - of Labor, and a surprise, Eli Yishai of Shas).

It is estimated that the operation will take thirty days. I can hear those groans from Washington here in Jerusalem already.

Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz have the right to order the operation, but they are not required to do so.

US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the meeting. What they discussed is not known.

During a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that she expected the international community to work "so that when the military operations end, it will be possible to make lasting changes in Lebanon."

Livni said that those changes should include the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces, together with an international force, in southern Lebanon, upholding a tight arms embargo, that would prevent the arming of terror groups, and the immediate and unconditional release of the two kidnapped IDF soldiers held by Hezbullah.

'Dipolmatic officials' said that Israel is not under any pressure from the United States to defer the expanded ground operation. The US has told Israel that because it is under constant rocket fire by Hezbullah, it has the right to defend itself. This will only change when (and if) the UN cease fire resolution is adopted, which will not happen before tomorrow (and may not happen at all the way things are going).

Israel is considering sending Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni to New York for the Security Council debate, due to its concern about changes being made to the draft resolution that was released on Saturday. The Jerusalem Post sets out some of those concerns:
The Arab League is expected to try to alter the resolution, and government officials said the specter of the security cabinet debating the widening of the operation was being used as a threat to the Lebanese that it would not be in their best interest to push for a proposal with which Israel would be unable to live.

Israel has made it clear that it would not accept a call for an immediate withdrawal of IDF troops.

There are different opinions in Jerusalem, however, about the decision to deploy 15,000 Lebanese army troops in the south announced Sunday by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, and how this could come into play in the new wording of the cease-fire resolution.

"The faster we leave south Lebanon, the happier we will be," Olmert said. "Of course we will only do this if we can ensure that we have achieved our goals."

One senior official said that Israel was awaiting details of the plan to deploy the Lebanese army, including when it would take place, where the troops would be deployed and what the "mission statement" would entail.

At face value, he said, Hizbullah's agreement to the deployment marks a significant change from the staunch opposition it expressed in the early days of the war.

Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office said that no detailed plan of the Lebanese army deployment had been passed on to Jerusalem, and that there was no third party shuttling messages on this matter between Jerusalem and Beirut, although US State Department envoy David Welch has spend the last few days in both capitals, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Jerusalem last night, straight from Beirut.

Another issue relating to the cease-fire resolution has to do with Israeli opposition to its Shaba Farms reference. The intensive work that has begun this week in the Foreign Ministry to prepare Israel's case on this issue signals Jerusalem's doubt that its opposition to the clause will be adopted.


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