TEL AVIV – Three days after the deadliest suicide bombing here in three years and the first such attack since Hamas officially took charge of the Palestinian government, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not ordered any major anti-terror operation, prompting concerns from some in the defense establishment the new Israeli government will be perceived as weak on terror.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
One of the suspected planners of Monday’s terror attack, which killed nine Israelis, boasted to WorldNetDaily he feels he is not under any threat by the Israeli army.
A senior Israeli Defense Forces official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media on matters of policy, said, “This bombing was Olmert’s major test to see how he would respond. Basically, there was no response. Now what the Hamas government will learn is that Israel under Ehud Olmert is not tough against terrorism.”
A Palestinian suicide bomber Monday blew himself up in a crowded section of Tel Aviv as Israelis celebrated the fifth day of the Passover holiday. The blast ripped through a falafel restaurant just outside Tel Aviv’s old central bus station, killing nine and injuring more than 60, at least 10 of them seriously, including an American tourist. The same restaurant was hit by a suicide attack this past January, wounding 20 people.
The Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror groups took responsibility for the attack. Both groups are openly funded by Iran. Al Aqsa is the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party.
Security sources told WND Islamic Jihad supplied the suicide bomber while Al Aqsa provided the explosive belt and was involved in orchestrating the operation.
The attack was the first suicide bombing in Israel since Hamas took over the Palestinian parliament and assumed control of the Palestinian Authority two weeks ago. It was also the deadliest since 2003.
The attack took place just hours before Israel’s new parliament led by Olmert was due to be inaugurated. The bombing was widely seen here as a test for the new Olmert government.
“We will know how to respond. We know what to do,” said Olmert in a brief statement immediately following the bombing.
But Tuesday Olmert announced while he holds the Hamas government responsible for the attack, he would not retaliate against Hamas institutions. The Israeli government did revoke permits for three Hamas legislatures living in the eastern sections of Jerusalem, although it was unclear today if the revocation would be enforced.
Olmert also publicly ruled out any large-scale military operation, explaining that what he called his “measured response” is designed to prevent further escalation of violence and will help maintain international pressure on Hamas, which praised this week’s suicide bombing as a “legitimate act of self-defense.”
Indeed, so far the IDF has been relatively inactive.
An Israel Air Force aircraft fired missiles at an empty metal workshop in Gaza City early Tuesday in stated response to the Tel Aviv bombing, causing some damage to the building but no injuries, Palestinian officials said. The building was suspected to have served as a missile factory for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was not directly responsible for the suicide attack.
Also, about 10 military vehicles reportedly entered the city of Nablus, where the top leadership of the Al Aqsa Brigades is located. So far no arrests of any senior terror leaders have taken place.
IDF sources say no major ground operation is planned for Balata, which contains the largest Al Aqsa Brigades infrastructure in the West Bank.
Abu Abir, a senior Al Aqsa leader in Nablus and a suspected plotter of the suicide attack, told WND, “It is true a few jeeps are in [the] Balata (refugee camp inside Nablus), but it’s nothing major. I am not afraid.”
Abu Ahmed, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, boasted his terror group is operating at “full capacity” and has a bombers unit consisting of more than 70 men and women ready to strike against Israel.
The senior IDF official told WND that military leaders held a closed-door meeting with Olmert following Monday’s bombing but that a large scale operation was immediately ruled out.
“We knew Olmert wouldn’t go for it. But we had to present a large-scale operation as an option anyway,” said the official. “Only if we are allowed to go house to house like we did in 2002 [during Operation Defensive Shield] and really root out the terror cells will we make any difference. Instead we are asked to conduct cosmetic operations. We are weak on terror and we will simply wait for the next bombing.”
The official said other military options presented to Olmert at the meeting included:
- Separating the West Bank into sections to prevent terrorists from moving from one city to another. The bomber is suspected of being transported from Jenin to other Palestinian cities closer to Tel Aviv and then eventually into the bombing site.
- Major IDF arrest operations in Jenin, where the bomber originated, and in Nablus.
- Targeted assassinations of Islamic Jihad leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- Continued anti-rocket operations in Gaza.
- An imposed long-term closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- Expansion of activities to expel Palestinians living illegally in Israel.