"Last Friday afternoon, 2.1.09, I convened the Security Cabinet in order to decide regarding the continuation of IDF operations in the south.
During the week that preceded the Cabinet meeting, I met repeatedly with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the heads of the security services, including IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi, ISA Director Yuval Diskin, Mossad Director Meir Dagan and National Security Council Chairman Danny Arditti. We analyzed the various measures regarding the continuation of the operation and ways to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves.
At the end of the day, it was around 04:00, we reached the conclusion that – following the recommendation of IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi and his senior commanders, which received the full backing of the security services, including ISA Director Diskin and Mossad Director Dagan – that there was no alternative to a ground action in the Gaza Strip in order to try and reach the goals of the operation.
The ground action that we began last night, as part of the overall operation, is designed to establish our aspiration to change the security reality in the south. IDF forces have gone to strike at the military infrastructure that Hamas has established and to take control of the areas from which most of the missiles have been fired at Sderot, Ashkelon, and Ashdod in recent weeks and months have been launched from. I asked the security establishment to tell me how many launches have been directed at our southern communities from the areas that the IDF is now in. The answer is astounding: The vast majority of launches were from those areas – 220 alone in the week since the operation began.
In a responsible and determined country, it cannot be that the home front will be subject to attack and a daring, strong and well-trained military does not defend it. Last Friday, we decided in accordance with a proposal that I submitted along with Foreign Minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak, as per the recommendation of IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi and the security services, to send our boys to defend their parents, brothers, sisters and neighbors that they left at home. We did not reach this conclusion lightly. For many months, we gave the calm a chance in the hope of avoiding a wide-ranging military operation. Our hopes were dashed.
I would like to dedicate a few words to the parents and family members of the IDF soldiers and security service personnel active in the Gaza Strip. I have thought about you a lot since the operation began, especially since the decision about a ground operation approached. I asked myself and my ministerial colleagues if there was some other step, outlet or effort that we had not yet tried before sending our boys into a place fraught with such risks – from which some of them may not return. This morning, I can look each one of you in the eyes and say that the Government did its utmost before deciding on the operation.
This operation was unavoidable.
Parallel to the military operation, a diplomatic campaign is also being waged. In recent days, I have been in continuous contact with most leaders of the free world. I briefed them on Israel’s position and goals and I spoke with them about the unavoidable constraints that caused the State of Israel to reach the conclusion that there was no alternative to the use of force in order to bring about a change in the situation. The diplomatic arena is not simple – even our best friends are worried and concerned, but the vast majority of them understand and are supportive.
I am greatly encouraged by the position of US President George Bush, who told me that we must ensure that Hamas not only stops firing but is also unable to do so in the future.
Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people in Gaza. They are not our enemies – they are also victims of violent and murderous repression by those same terrorist organizations. To them I say, on behalf of all of Israel, that we will not allow a humanitarian crisis to be created in the Gaza Strip. We will help supply food and medicines like any enlightened and moral country must do.
Israel has no interest in opening additional fronts – neither in the east or the north – apart from that in the south. However, caution is necessary and, therefore, I have instructed the security establishment to be on the highest alert and to be prepared for any development, lest anyone think this is his opportunity to exploit Israel’s focus on the southern front in order to try and change the stable reality that has been created in the wake of past events.
I appeal to the citizens of Israel. These are not quiet or simple times. Our boys are on the battlefield. Let us be worthy of their courage and sacrifice. Let us maintain our composure. As a society, we will comport ourselves with the responsibility and consideration that we know is called for in moments of decisive national importance. My heart and that of the entire nation is with our fighters. We rely on GOC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and his soldiers and commanders on the battlefield to carry out their mission. The Cabinet specially commends IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Ashkenazi and ISA Director Diskin for preparing and training our forces, gathering intelligence and precisely carrying out their missions.
We, in the political leadership, will try to give the public reliable and responsible real-time information. We will lay aside our rivalries, disagreements and struggles. Today, more than any other day, the nation of Israel is united."