After more than 40 rockets and 20 mortar shells hit Israel Wednesday, causing dozens of people to suffer from shock as well as extensive damage to homes and places of business, the IDF has begun to prepare for a military operation. The operation will go forth according to all stipulations unless Hamas ceases its fire.
Military officials said the IDF would enter Gaza when the weather and other factors allowed for the operation to go forth. It will be conducted mostly through air strikes. The officials said Israel did not intend to recapture Gaza, but merely to put pressure on the terror organizations.
An IDF official said Wednesday that "our goal is to make Hamas come to a decision that the fire must stop, and this goal can be accomplished by a military operation, which is unpreventable in the current situation." Other officials said many of the preparations for the operation had already been completed.
"An operation can be carried out in many ways," one official said. "There is a wide selection of tools we can use, and we don’t have to use them all at once."
No time limit
IDF officials have insinuated that in any case an operation in Gaza would be gradual and also be dependent on the other side's response.
"Military pressure will eventually force Hamas to reach decisions, and from our standpoint the most important decision would be to stop firing toward Israeli communities," one official said.
In the period leading up to the ceasefire between Israel and the armed Palestinian groups, which expired five days ago, senior IDF officers said they felt helpless in the face of the incessant rocket attacks, and these days one would be hard-pressed to find an army official who is against taking action against Hamas.
The military predicts that any operation in the Strip would prompt massive rocket fire toward the western Negev and possibly toward areas that have yet to sustain Qassam attacks. Officials also postulate that Hamas may attempt to carry out a "quality" terror attack, which it has been training for during the lull.
Simultaneously, the political echelon will ask that the UN Security Council and the international community to give the IDF ample time to see the operation through. Currently the operation does not have a time limit.
On Thursday Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will head to Egypt for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak, who will try to dissuade Israel from implementing its decision to operate in Gaza.
Israel has reached a decision to deal Hamas a severe blow in Gaza, and, barring a major change in the Islamist group's stance, is merely waiting for the most opportune time to strike.
Roni Sofer contributed to the report