Israel has been sitting on the fence for the last four months, biting its nails, counting Qassam rockets and looking impatiently as Gaza arms itself to the teeth and prepares for a confrontation. If we don't get off the grandstands and take some kind of action - on the security or diplomatic front - we shall invariably find ourselves on the court with thousands of troops, tanks and armored vehicles.
All the scenarios point to a war in the Gaza Strip, the most densely populated area in the world. The army is preparing for every eventuality, and it's beginning to look inevitable - a developing process that has reached the point of no return.
This is what Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin spoke about Tuesday. He didn't come to present armament figures, but to caution: A decision must be made to do something, whether diplomatic or a move that would thwart future developments. Otherwise we shall be dragged into a wide scale, uncontrollable conflict.
During a meeting with military reporters a month ago, Diskin noted that the timing of a large military campaign should be carefully weighed, because we must take "the day after" into account. No one is really interested in seeing the Palestinian Authority collapse, thus forcing Israel to reestablish the Civil Administration.
A senior defense establishment official says that each time the army asks the prime minister to change something in the rules of engagement pertaining to the Qassam launchers or to carry out a limited operation in the Strip along the fence the answer is: "No, we shall maintain the ceasefire to the end. So that when we have to strike we'll have clean hands in the eyes of the international community and we'll gain support."
The defense establishment feels that even the political echelons have already come to terms with the inevitability of a military operation.
Hamas prepares for IDF assault
A twin engine rocket with a 16 kilometer (10 mile) range has already landed in Ashkelon close to Kibbutz Bror Hail, and the clock is still ticking. The Palestinian military industry will soon have a production line for rockets with even longer ranges. Grad missiles with a 20 kilometer range have already been smuggled into the Strip and are being duplicated by the locals.
According to the Shin Bet chief's forecast, some 200,000 Israelis will find themselves under the threat of missile fire from Gaza as early as this year. The Home Front Command has already drawn up a plan at a cost of a billion and a half shekels (roughly USD 400 million) for reinforcing the communities located up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Strip; however, it doesn't seem like anyone is planning to really budget the plan.
In parallel to upgrading the rockets against the Israeli home front, Hamas is working on efficiently hindering an Israeli ground assault. Four divisions have already been established. The Hamas army, which is based on the Hizbullah model and already numbers 8,000, is well equipped and trained. Its troops are sent to Iran for studies and training, where they learn the Hizbullah lessons from the last war.
The assumption is that Hamas' strength currently equals that of Hizbullah in 2001. And just like in Lebanon, bunkers and underground tunnels under built-up areas are also being constructed in order to withstand the IDF's aerial bombing.
This effective military might, which is improving daily, is being accumulated under the IDF's nose. A significant improvement was made recently in its capability to deal with the IDF's armored vehicles by enhancement of its explosive devices and purchase of innovative anti-tank weapons.
Then there are another 5,500 troops, the Hamas security forces, who demonstrated an impressive capability against Fatah in recent months. The war taking shape in the Gaza Strip is not inevitable. The question is where to find the leadership that would make the right decisions.