JERUSALEM – The only way Israel can stop the missiles regularly fired from the Gaza Strip into nearby Jewish cities is for troops to recapture parts of Gaza, including the former Jewish communities forcibly evacuated this past summer, Israel’s former defense minister said this week.

Moshe Arens, a seasoned defense diplomat who also has served as foreign minister, accused the Israeli government of refusing to send ground troops into Gaza because it may paint its withdrawal from the territory a strategic failure.

“I fear that the government is refraining from sending IDF troops into Gaza to stop the Kassam rockets because it doesn’t want to admit its mistake in withdrawing from Gaza in the first place,” said Arens in an interview with Israel National News.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza last August, Palestinians have been shooting rockets, mostly Qassams, from the vacated territory aimed at Jewish communities in the adjacent Negev desert. More than 14 rockets were fired this week. Several have landed in Ashkelon near the site of large power stations that supply much of Israel with electricity.

The army here has retaliated with artillery fire against launch sites and targeted aerial strikes against suspected rocket factories, but the current retaliation policy has failed to stop or even slow the number being launched from Gaza.

“The Israeli Defense Forces artillery barrage on northern Gaza is totally futile, as the terrorists fire the rockets from densely populated areas while Israel shells empty areas,” said Arens.

“The security establishment must not forget that the Qassams being fired on Ashkelon are being fired from areas that were abandoned as part of the disengagement,” Arens said. “The army must therefore return and conquer these areas, and only in this way will we be able to stop the rockets from being fired at us.”

Arens was appointed defense minister by four Israeli governments, most recently in 1999 under the administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was a foreign minister in 1988 for the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Critics of Israel’s Gaza evacuation long had warned the retreat would prompt an onslaught of terrorism requiring the IDF to re-enter the territory.

WND first reported last week Israeli troops this month quietly have been trained for a large-scale incursion and occupation of Gaza in the event it is called for. The soldiers have been told to be prepared within one week from receiving an order for a large-scale operation or within several hours to three days for a smaller operation.

But government sources say Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would not approve the occupation of Gaza while he is trying to push through an Israeli withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria, the biblical Jewish lands now known as the West Bank, which is within rocket-firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the country’s international airport. The sources said a Gaza operation would label Israel’s evacuation last summer a failure, and that could damage the prospects for the planned Judea and Samaria withdrawal.

The sources also said Olmert feels Israel is “making headway” with the international community for restraint following a suicide bombing last Monday in Tel Aviv that killed nine and injured more than 60. It was the largest suicide bombing in Israel since 2003 and the first such attack since Hamas officially took over the Palestinian Authority. The attacks occurred several hours before Israel’s new parliament was due to be inducted.

For many, the reports of troops being prepared for a possible Gaza offensive actualize warnings repeatedly voiced by opponents of the withdrawal plan prior to its implementation. The same leaders have been blasting Olmert’s Judea and Samaria withdrawal plan.

About 200,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria. A separation barrier, still under construction in certain areas, cordons off nearly 95 percent of the territory from Israel’s pre-1967 borders. More than half of Judea and Samaria’s Jewish residents reside on the side of the fence closest to Israel. About 80,000 more Jews live on the other side of the barrier. Olmert officials have stated the past few weeks the new prime minister plans to enforce a withdrawal from all 68 Jewish towns that fall outside the barrier.

In a widely circulated WND article, leaders of every major Palestinian terror organization warned they will soon launch a massive violent campaign against Israel focused mainly on Judea and Samaria Jewish communities.

One senior terrorist said now that Olmert announced a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, terrorism against Israel must be stepped up “to prove we are chasing out the Israelis like we did in Gaza.”

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