‘US okays IDF wide-scale Gaza op’

The United States has given a “green light” to an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, the Lebanese newspaper, Al-Akhbar reported Saturday morning.

The report cites “credible diplomatic sources” as saying that American approval came after Israeli intelligence impressed on US officials the importance of a wide-scale operation as an answer to the unprecedented arms smuggling within Gaza.

According to the newspaper report, the intelligence was shared during Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s last visit to Washington. Sources told Al-Akhbar that the intelligence depicted a worrying picture of an “arms race” between Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. In addition, Israel presented details of money transfers between the Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa’s Martyrs Brigades.

In the past few days, Barak met a number of times with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to decide definitively on the timing of a wide-scale operation, Al-Akhbar cited the sources as saying. Further, the sources stated that despite the “green light,” Israel was hesitating to launch an operation out of concerns that it would complicate preparations for the upcoming US-sponsored Mideast peace summit in Annapolis.

Until the timing of the operation is decided, IDF forces stationed on the Gaza border will continue training for a massive military operation in the Strip, the report said.

Meanwhile, IDF forces discovered seven weapons-smuggling tunnels in the southern Strip along the Egyptian border on Thursday.

The kilometer-long tunnels were discovered near Dahiniye by an elite Engineering Corps unit and troops from the Golani infantry’s Battalion 51. The tunnels were found within two kilometers of the border with Israel and, according to the IDF, had been used intensively in recent months to smuggle weapons and explosives from Egypt into Gaza.

The troops destroyed the tunnels in controlled explosions. IDF sources said they had been large enough for people to pass through and were most probably used by terrorists to leave Gaza on their way to Iran or Syria for training.