(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)
1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on the struggle against Palestinian terror and the fighting in Iraq, and said that the continuation of anti-Israel terror found painful expression in last week’s suicide bombing in Netanya in which more than 50 people were wounded. A terrible disaster was prevented mainly due to a soldier’s having prevented the terrorist from blowing up a Netanya cafe.
Following the attack, pressure was stepped up in the Tulkarm area – but mainly in the Tulkarm refugee camp – by demolishing the home of the suicide-terrorist, and carrying out thorough searches and arrests. The principal goal of the operation was to apprehend wanted Islamic Jihad terrorists. To this end, the refugee camp was searched house- to-house; its male inhabitants were gathered and investigated. This made it possible to thoroughly search the camp and arrest many fugitives while reducing the risk to the civilian population. Israel also scored many successes in its counter-terror efforts last week.
Regarding the war in Iraq, Defense Minister Mofaz said that a turning point has been reached in the campaign to topple Saddam Hussein. However, the security establishment’s basic assessment of the situation has not changed. Therefore, instructions to the public have not changed. Israel is closely monitoring events in order to identify the point at which it would be able to safely say that the blows to Iraq’s capabilities are such that the threat to Israel is no longer cogent.
Regarding Syria’s problematic role in the region, Defense Minister Mofaz said that Damascus is assisting Iraq with war materiel and volunteers, and is encouraging Palestinian terrorism.
2. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on his visit to the US and his meetings with senior US officials. He referred to the special and supportive atmosphere for Israel that he found in the US, both among the American Jewish community and the American population at large.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon emphasized that in the framework of diplomatic contacts vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians, Israel will make no concessions regarding the security of the state and its citizens. Prime Minister Sharon stressed that this has been made clear to the leaders with whom he has met in the US, Europe and Russia.
Prime Minister Sharon said that while the dismantling of Iraq’s weapons will indeed contribute to Israel’s security, Israel’s problems do not end there. Israel has problems with other countries in the region that openly declare that their goal is Israel’s destruction and which are acquiring weapons of mass-destruction. In the security field, Israel has neither the intention nor the ability to make concessions.
3. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed ministers on the state of the Israeli economy in wake of the government’s plan for economic recovery and said that the fact that the Cabinet has passed the plan has improved the situation in Israel to a certain degree. He noted that the Bank of Israel has lowered interest rates and said that Israel is now capable of raising capital at a better price. He said that these improvements are conditional on passing the plan, and added that the plan’s first reading is scheduled for next Sunday, with the second and third readings planned for after Passover.
Finance Minister Netanyahu said that he is holding contacts with the Histadrut in order to prevent the latter’s planned general strike.
4. The Cabinet decided to propose that the Knesset declare a state of emergency, in accordance with Basic Law: The Government, for one year, in continuation of the Knesset’s declaration of June 2002. The Cabinet further decided that the Justice Ministry, along with other relevant ministries, would continue their examination of laws affected by the existence of the declaration of a state of emergency. The Cabinet decision stems from the current security-diplomatic situation. The declaration will be for a period of one year and will take effect upon the expiry of the current declaration, i.e. on June 25, 2003.
5. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon noted that today marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous Kishinev pogrom of 1903 (see http://kishinev.lk.net/pogrom.html and .
He said that it is the duty of the State of Israel to continue recalling the events which befell the Jewish people in the Diaspora in order to prevent their recurrence and so that Jews around the world will understand that they must emigrate to Israel, the only place in the world where Jews have the right and the power to defend themselves.
Prime Minister Sharon noted that Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman will lead the Israeli delegation to a conference that will open in Kishinev tomorrow and which will mark 100 years since the pogrom. Prime Minister Sharon also thanked Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin for his efforts in organizing the conference.