(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 23 April 2006:

1. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Israel Police commissioner Moshe Karadi, the Deputy Director of the ISA, GOC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yedlin and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed ministers on security and diplomatic affairs.

A. Defense Minister Mofaz said that the deadly 17 April 2006 suicide bombing near the old central bus station in Tel Aviv enjoyed the backing of the Hamas government and underscored the latter’s principled support of terrorism even as Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Abu Mazen condemned the attack, thus earning severe criticism from Hamas. He noted the significant increase in the number of warnings (75 last week as opposed to 55 in the entire month of February) and said that while more than 10 suicide attacks on Israeli territory have been foiled since the beginning of the year, 17 people have been killed in terrorist attacks so far this year.

Defense Minister Mofaz discussed the Kassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and noted that last Friday there had been an attempt to launch a Katyusha rocket.

He said that the political crisis in the Palestinian Authority had found expression in the speeches by Hamas leaders who attacked Abu Mazen and his people. He discussed the violent clashes in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas militants that took place against the background of the appointment of senior terrorist Jamal Abu Samhadana to the post of Interior Ministry and police inspector-general, which was rescinded by Abu Mazen, and of Abu Mazen’s appointment of Rashid Abu Shabakh to be in charge of the security services, which Hamas does not recognize.

Defense Minister Mofaz also discussed the PA budget crisis, which mainly affects the payment of salaries and the financing of ongoing activities. Hamas leaders are optimistic regarding Iran’s promise of $100 million and Qatar’s of $50 million even though the funds have yet to arrive.

He noted that Jordan had postponed a visit by the Hamas government’s foreign minister following the discovery of a cache of arms smuggled by Hamas into Jordan.

Regarding the Iranian issue, Defense Minister Mofaz noted that the Iranians have announced progress in their ability to enrich uranium, a technological breakthrough that currently enables civilian, not military, use. The Iranians are continuing dialogue and negotiations in order to gain time.

Regarding the situation in the north, he noted that UN Secy.-Gen. Kofi Annan has called for Hizbullah to be disarmed and reminded the Cabinet that Ambassador Larsen has called on the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah and has said that the Shaba Farms are Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. Syria is continuing to enhance its ties with Iran and the Palestinian terrorist organizations, offering the latter both financial and material support.

B. Israel Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi also briefed ministers on the 17 April 2006 suicide bombing.

He referred to the issue of persons staying illegally in Israel and said that 730 had been arrested last week alone. He said that while increased Israel Police and security force activity on the highways and at checkpoints has created traffic delays, there is no alternative.

C. The Deputy Director of the ISA discussed the issue of terrorist attack warnings as well as the suicide bombing.

He discussed counter-terrorist efforts and the need to complete the security fence, especially in the greater Jerusalem area.

D. GOC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yedlin discussed the Iranian nuclear issue and the Palestinian issue, especially the PA’s internal crises.

E. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni discussed the international community’s principled stand regarding the Hamas government, according to which the latter is not legitimate as long as it does not meet the three conditions that have been set. The international community is also aware of the fact that this position need not punish the Palestinian people. But over time it is possible to expect that if the Hamas government does not fall even as the sense of a humanitarian crisis is created – the international community will recognize the reality and there will be an erosion in the position.

She also discussed Hamas officials’ remarks in support of the 17 April 2006 suicide bombing and the Samahadana appointment, which strengthened the line in the international community according to which the Hamas government is not legitimate. The condemnations made by statesmen in the international media were directed at Hamas and strengthened the line currently being taken by the international community.

Foreign Minister Livni discussed international events related to the Palestinian issue such as the upcoming 27 April 2006 donors; conference at which the matter of assistance to the Palestinians will be raised, the 9 May 2006 Quartet meeting and the aforementioned Jordanian postponement of the Palestinian Foreign Minister’s visit.

She reported on her recent meeting with EU member state ambassadors at which she discussed the 17 April 2006 suicide bombing and EU policy towards Hamas. She noted that the ambassadors understood Israel’s position; there has been no attempt to erode the principled line that has been formulated against the Hamas government.

Foreign Minister Livni also discussed the Iranian issue and noted that the world is currently waiting for IAEA Director-General El Baradei’s report and the concomitant UN Security Council discussion. She said that the main question is whether the UN Security Council would consider action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. She said that Russia and China opposed the imposition of sanctions and that the former was continuing its own contacts with Iran in order to position itself as an independent and leading element in the international arena, despite its membership in the Quartet and obligations regarding joint action that derive therefrom.

She discussed the recent conference in Tehran at which inflammatory anti-Israel statements were made, including those in support of the armed struggle and the Hamas government.

Foreign Minister Livni also referred to Lebanese affairs, echoing Defense Minister Mofaz’s aforesaid remarks.

F. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made the following summary remarks:

"The Iranian issue is both central and substantive and tops the State of Israel’s list of priorities. This a potential threat on the existential level.  While other issues are very important, this one is the most central vis-a-vis the size of the threat and its significance. I reiterate that this is not a threat just against Israel. If the platforms that the Iranians are developing come to fruition, Europe, the US and whole of Western civilization will be potentially threatened. When such a government possesses such delivery capabilities, it must alarm most countries of the world, especially those which carry global responsibilities.

Therefore, our position has always been that it would not be correct to focus on us as the spearhead of the global struggle as if it were our local, individual problem and not a problem for the entire international community. The international struggle must be led and managed by – first and foremost – the US, Europe and the UN institutions. We are not ignoring our need to take a long, varied and impressive series of steps in order to be prepared for any eventuality and in order to not make things easier for the Iranians. But others must lead and we are in contact with them and are coordinating with them. This is important because sometimes it sounds a little exaggerated and undesirable that all kinds of statements are made here regarding what should and should not be done with the Iranians. Let us be properly focused and let others act, declare, threaten and warn as they will.

We have been briefed on last week’s suicide bombing. We will now make a supreme effort to complete the fence as soon as possible, especially in the greater Jerusalem area. The entire fence is a problem but in the greater Jerusalem area it has been proven that all of the terrorists’ routes utilize the incomplete fence in the greater Jerusalem area. The High Court of Justice has recently made two rulings that ease the situation. I hold weekly status discussions to check, see and decide and we will move forward as quickly as possible in order to complete this project.

The fence, including in the greater Jerusalem area, is not at the expense of counter-terrorist and preventive operations by the security forces. I recall Defense Minister Mofaz’s remarks. I do not think that any element in the world could show such counter-terrorist achievements. We salute the security services. However, when an attack is successful, it is very hard and the problem is that nobody either remembers or counts the times it did not happen. We only count the wounded. We must carry on with all counter-terrorist activities and I have instructed the security forces that there are no restrictions on counter-terrorist and preventive operations.

Whatever is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks must be done everywhere, without restriction or reservation. The international community understands this today better than ever even if it does not always like it. The statements by the leaders of the Palestinian Hamas government very much helped to sharpen awareness regarding the nature of this regime.

Following the Samahadana appointment, the US State Department said that Hamas’ true face was being exposed. International statements and reactions following the Hamas leaders’ remarks were very sharp, even in the world press. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian, which is a decidedly left-wing newspaper, all came out with editorials commending the prudence of the Israeli position and said in effect: It has been proven that Israel has no partner and therefore, this certainly leads to the taking of unilateral measures by the State of Israel.  It is very interesting to see this process. We must – and the Foreign Ministry is acting accordingly – emphasize the fact that the Hamas government is a terrorist government.

When such leaders declare that they in effect support terrorist attacks and that they do not intend to prevent them and are unable to do so from a moral perspective, then this government has become a terrorist government, and this is the information line that we will take in the media and in our diplomatic contacts. It is very important that the diplomatic community, foreign ministries and governments around the world internalize the fact that we have no partner here whom it is possible to talk to.”

2. The Cabinet decided to appoint Finance Ministry Budget Division Energy Coordinator Uri Shusterman as the Finance Ministry representative to the Public Utility Authority-Electricity.