Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel is being forced into a war against terrorism, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a special address to the nation on Monday evening.
Sharon was speaking just hours after Israeli helicopters fired at least nine missiles into Palestinian Authority installations in the Gaza Strip, destroying two of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat's helicopters. It was not immediately clear how many casualties there were.
The action was taken in retaliation for the murder of 25 Israelis in two weekend suicide-bombing attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa. Another Israeli was killed in a shooting attack in the Gaza Strip.
Sharon returned earlier in the day from meeting with President Bush and other administration officials in Washington. He made it clear that Israel was going to take action against the perpetrators of terror, whom he said were forcing Israel into war.
"The aim of this war of terror, the aim of the terrorists, their aids and dispatchers, the aim of those who enable them to perpetrate their acts quietly without disturbance, is to expel us from here," Sharon said in the primetime televised address.
"Their aim is to bring us to total despair, a loss of hope, and a loss of the national vision which leads us: A free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem," he added.
This war, Sharon said, was being "forced" upon Israel as it had been in the past. He fingered Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat as the guilty party.
"Arafat is responsible for everything that happens here," Sharon said. "Arafat has made his strategic choices: a strategy of terrorism, in choosing to try and win political accomplishments through murder and in choosing to allow the ruthless killing of innocent civilians, Arafat has chosen the path of terrorism."
Right or wrong, according to Sharon's assessment, the world has begun to see Arafat as Israel sees him - as the chief terrorist.
"Arafat is the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East. We have seen this in the past, are seeing it in the present, and will unfortunately probably continue to see this in the future," he said. The Palestinian people, he added, are the "primary victims" of the situation brought about by Arafat.
Despite his strong accusations, Sharon stopped short of labeling Arafat an "enemy" and would not say that Israel would try to topple the Palestinian leader.
"We will take the necessary measures as long as the terror exists," Sharon told reporters at his office after the address. "We will be acting until we will end terror ... Arafat, no doubt, he is the one who is responsible for this terror and we will have to take the necessary steps, which we will decide in due time."
The White House has decidedly taken a step back from its usual rhetoric of urging Israel to exercise restraint in its reaction. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier that Israel has a right to defend itself.
Commentators in Jerusalem have said that it would have been very difficult for Washington to urge Sharon not to respond since the U.S. is in the middle of a war against the Taliban regime accused of harboring terrorists in Afghanistan.
Sharon did not waste this point in his speech.
"Just as the United States is conducting its war against international terror [by] using all its might against terror, so will we too. With all the strength, determination and resources we have used until today, and with resources at our disposal."
Sharon was meeting with his full cabinet later on Monday to discuss how Israel will deal with this expanded threat of terror.