Today the Cabinet dedicated the first part of its weekly meeting to the situation regarding the fighting in the south of the country.

As you know, the State of Israel yesterday began a military operation in the Gaza Strip, the goal of which is to restore quiet and tranquility to the south of the country.  The IDF operation began after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in continuation of last Wednesday’s Security Cabinet decision, decided that conditions were ripe for a response on our part to the situation in the south of the country.

The Cabinet was briefed today by IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, ISA Director Yuval Diskin and Israel Police Inspector-General Dudi Cohen and dedicated part of its meeting to the home front.

The Government of Israel supports the security forces, including the IDF and the ISA, in their vigorous and unyielding operations.  Israel’s fighters are the heroes of the operation and the Government, along with the entire nation, expresses its support. 

The Government estimates that events in the south of the country could continue for some time. The State of Israel has all the time, determination and means necessary in order to restore daily routine, security and tranquility to the residents of the south of the country.

Special emphasis was given to the home front.  Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai noted that the deployment, in cooperation with local authorities, is working efficiently.  IDF Home Front Command has become the regional command and is coordinating operations to help residents.  Local council heads and municipal networks are operating effectively.

Citizens of Israel, especially those in the south, the Government has placed you at the center of the decision-making process. You have undergone seven difficult years. These must pass forever.  Great patience and endurance are necessary. The Government will do its utmost to place all necessary assistance at your disposal.  It is very important to follow all of the instructions that are given to you.

Defense Minister Barak emphasized that we are at the start of an operation that will be neither short nor easy. The IDF has the full backing of a determined, patient and united leadership.  The steadfastness of the home front will greatly influence the operation and, therefore, it has been decided that studies in the area will not resume on Tuesday, 30 December 2008, after the end of the Chanukah vacation.

IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi referred to the situation in the south. Most of the Palestinians’ 230-250 casualties are uniformed, armed Hamas personnel. The IDF knew in advance that the next step will be an attempt by Hamas to respond by firing at Israeli communities and, therefore, launch sites were attacked in the second wave. The IDF will continue with the operation, as it was approved by the political leadership, while deploying for as long as may be necessary, and with all necessary means, and will operate, in the coming days, to call up additional reservists.

ISA Director Yuval Diskin reiterated that the mood among a not unsubstantial part of the Palestinian population understands that the operation is against Hamas, which has inflicted great suffering on the residents of Gaza. Shock among the Hamas leadership is high. However, it views the assault as a first blow and is looking to carry out actions that will change the picture. There is no intention to harm the population or make life in the Gaza Strip difficult and, therefore, humanitarian aid will be given, and even expanded, according to directives from the political leadership. ISA Director Diskin reiterated the need for patience and determination. Hamas is yet to respond and may even try to surprise us.

Israel Police Inspector-General Cohen said that the Israel Police is concentrating on three foci: the home front, disturbances to law and order, and the prevention of terrorism. Deployment is nationwide, alert levels are high and steps are being taken to maintain public order."