Tensions between the leaders of Israel's two largest parties - PM Ehud Olmert of Kadima and DM Amir Peretz of Labor - simmered to a boil once again last night, following a phone call Peretz initiated to Abu Mazen. Peretz phoned the Fatah leader and told him he must put an end to the Kassams from Gaza. Abu Mazen said he would work to this end, and added that there will have to be cooperation with Israel afterwards. Peretz then informed his boss, Prime Minister Olmert, about the call, but Olmert was not too pleased.

Olmert reportedly told Peretz that it was not the Defense Minister's place to initiate calls of this nature, and that he and his aides were already working on other diplomatic channels. He said that news of the call would hurt Abu Mazen as well as Olmert's chances of meeting the PLO leader. Peretz protested, saying he does not want to deal only with firing anti-Kassam artillery, but also with stopping the rockets diplomatically. The conversation ended without agreement. Aides to Peretz said later that Olmert has been trying for weeks to arrange a meeting with Abu Mazen, to no avail.

Peres Weighs In

Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres - whom the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin once termed an "relentless undercutter" - said that Peretz should not have had contact with Abu Mazen about stopping Kassams without coordinating it with Olmert. Peres left the Labor Party and joined Kadima after Peretz was chosen Labor leader last year.

Later appearing at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Peretz said he had promised Abu Mazen nothing. "I told him that when he has practical ideas as to how to stop the Kassams and the arms smuggling, we will review them," Peretz said.

Kassams Strike

Whatever the ideas might be, they have yet to be implemented. Arabs bombarded Sderot and the western Negev with several rockets yet again this morning, causing damage to a home and nearly hitting a gas pipeline. No injuries were reported - though last night, four people, including a 13-year-old, his parents, and another 11-year-old child, were sent to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon with Kassam-related wounds.

Referring to the army's efforts against the rockets, Peretz said he would not elaborate on the details, but said the army is preparing plans for "deep military operations." At the same time, however, "We must take advantage of every crack for dialogue with the Palestinians."

Peretz further said that he has ordered the security apparatus to reconsider the development of a Kassam-rocket interception system, a project that was frozen before he became Defense Minister.

Peretz emphasized, "I approved every plan proposed to me by the army" - but Committee member MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said later, "This is not true." Ariel said he knows "based on senior trusted sources" of offensives that Peretz did not approve.

Ariel's Plan

The only solution to the Kassams, Ariel told Knesset TV Channel 99, is this three-fold plan: "A take-over of northern Gaza, thus pushing the Kassam launchers two kilometers deeper into Gaza; preventing free transport of weapons by cutting Gaza in half with an IDF presence; and a takeover of the Philadelphi Route along the Egypt-Gaza border in the south."

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz told the Committee that using force to stop the Gaza rockets is not the first option, as "we must consider what will happen the day after... We must think of other ideas."

MK Yuval Shteinitz (Likud), a former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, sharply attacked Peretz, saying that what is needed is not promises from Abu Mazen, but "another Operation Defensive Shield [as occurred in Samaria in 2002] to uproot terrorists in Gaza." Some committee members called on Peretz to resign.

Opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) visited Sderot on Sunday, warning that if Israel gives in to the Kassam attacks in Sderot, "the rockets will reach even as far as Ashdod." Netanyahu said, "Sderot is part of Israel, and the government must provide security there with more multi-pronged offensives on our part."