Senior defense officials believe that if the Annapolis peace conference fails, this would lead to a wide-scale military operation in Gaza.
Army sources fear that Hamas could reach its full military capacity within a few months, and the consensus among the IDF top ranks is therefore that the sooner Israel attacks in Gaza, the better it would be in terms of minimizing Israeli casualties.
According to intelligence sources, Hamas is just 2-3 years away from obtaining the same military capabilities it took Hizbullah a decade to obtain. Experts estimate that the Palestinian rocket range, which in recent years has grown from two kilometers to 12, could soon reach 20 kilometers and put Ashdod within rocket range.
Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi, head of the IDF Logistic Branch, provided several examples for the situation in Gaza: "They dig holes in the roads, place powerful explosive devices inside and cover them with asphalt, so that it's impossible to detect them," he described.
Mizrahi also said that Iran was heavily involved in funding Hamas' efforts to build a navy and develop other military capabilities.
'Operation the scope of Lebanon War'
In light of these developments, a large-scale military operation may become inevitable. Officials predict that such an incursion could reach the scope of the Second Lebanon War and last up to a month.
The Palestinian side, officials say, could suffer a large number of casualties, and the terrorist infrastructure would be completely destroyed. In the aftermath of the conflict, the IDF hopes that Hamas would be dramatically weakened, a fact that should enable concrete diplomatic gains on the Palestinian front.