International troops headed for Gaza?
Olmert weighs allowing NATO to protect Israel

Posted: February 27, 2008
8:51 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government is debating asking the international community or NATO to send troops to the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli defense officials speaking to WND.

The officials said Olmert is considering allowing the Israel Defense Forces to launch a large-scale ground operation in Gaza to counter the Hamas terrorist group’s advanced military infrastructure in the territory and to halt the regular onslaught of rockets from Gaza fired at nearby Jewish communities.

According to the defense officials, after a prolonged ground operation, Olmert would threaten that Israeli troops would remain in Gaza unless the international community deploys forces to serve as a buffer between Israel and Gaza-based militants and to assist Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah forces, which would re-enter Gaza.

U.S. and Israeli policy considers Fatah moderate. Fatah’s declared military wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, is the most active West Bank Palestinian terror group and is classified by the State Department as a terrorist organization. Hamas forces last summer overran all U.S.-backed Fatah security compounds in Gaza and took over the territory, reportedly seizing large stockpiles of Fatah weapons.

Olmert has been under pressure from IDF leaders to approve a ground onslaught in Gaza, where terrorists have been firing rockets into Israel at an exponentially increasing rate. Military sources also warn Hamas has transported mass quantities of weapons into Gaza and built army units with some commanders trained by Iran.

Yesterday, one civilian was killed and several were wounded after more than 30 rockets slammed in and near Sderot, a town of 25,000 residents about three miles from the Gaza border.

Residents of Sderot and surrounding communities have been protesting against Olmert in recent weeks, setting up camp and leading marches outside the Knesset, Olmert’s Jerusalem residence and at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Defense officials speaking to WND said most senior IDF officials strongly oppose the idea of NATO or international troop deployment in Gaza. They said they fear international forces would not be motivated to protect Israel and would impede any further necessary Israeli ground operations in Gaza.

“Can you imagine if Israel needs to take out a terror crew firing rockets into Sderot and mistakenly bombs a German or French tank?” asked one defense official.

“Does anyone believe France or Belgium would protect Israel?” the official asked sarcastically.

The official pointed to international troops deployed in south Lebanon following Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah there. According to reports, Hezbollah rearmed, regrouped and transferred rockets and anti-tank missiles to the area the international forces were supposed to maintain as an arms-free zone.

According to the defense officials speaking to WND, Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni support the deployment of international forces in Gaza while Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF officials have voiced reservations.

In December at a speech in Brussels before NATO officials, Livni hinted at allowing international troops to be stationed in Gaza, setting of a firestorm of opposition from many Knesset members.

“We are now in a process that is expected to strengthen the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority – so they would fight terror instead of Israel. However, one cannot exclude the possibility that we will need to discuss what can be the role of NATO in supporting the need for a change, a real change, on the ground,” Livni said.

Some world leaders in recent months spoke openly about joining a force in the Palestinian territories. In December, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the media he would be supportive of the “deployment, when the time and conditions are right, of an international force to assist the Palestinian security services.”

In an interview in December with the Jerusalem Post, European Union Middle East envoy Marc Otte said he heard from Israeli and Palestinian leaders there was “definitely more interest than in the past” for the deployment of international forces.

“After the [Second] Lebanon War, the sides see the merit in an international security presence,” he said.

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