The security establishment estimates that Israel will soon have to launch an extensive military operation in Gaza in an effort to quell the incessant rocket and mortar fire on the country's southern region, Ynet has learned.
Senior defense officials said that the time for hesitation has passed, as the armed terror groups have left Israel no other choice but to act inside the Hamas-controlled enclave.
However, it is estimated that the results from such an operation will not be evident immediately and the rocket fire will continue and even increase during the first days of the operation – before it begins to subside.
Therefore, the defense officials said, the Israeli public, particularly the residents of the Negev, must be prepared both mentally and physically for the continuation of the attacks emanating from the Strip.
"We will definitely pay a price, but we cannot allow the current situation to continue," one official said Saturday night. "We would like to see the ceasefire resume, but Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees are leaving us no other choice because they are carrying on with the rocket fire. This is why we are on a collision course with them, even if we have to act in the midst of the election campaign here in Israel and before US President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration."
Similar situation during Ariel Sharon's term
The security establishment is well-aware that the Israeli public is in favor of a harsh Israeli response and that, for the most part, the rocket attacks are condemned by the international community.
In addition, the security establishment fears that a lengthy operation with heavy casualties for both sides may sway public opinion in Israel and within the international community.
International and domestic pressure may cause the government to cut the military operation short before Hamas and its affiliated groups stop the attacks on Israel's south.
"Hamas understands that it would be able to claim victory in such a case," an Israeli official said, "they can read us like an open book, and this is why they keep taunting us – even though they do not want us to launch an operation in Gaza."
The security establishment is therefore trying to create a situation in which it is clear to Israeli public and the international community that the government has acted with the maximum restraint to prevent a further escalation of violence.
If and when the confrontation does erupt, Israel will make an effort to prevent any escalation on its other fronts. The government will also look to shorten the fighting in Gaza and perhaps call for the renewal of the ceasefire if Hamas accepts its terms.
Israel faced a similar situation under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who ordered the launching of operation Defensive Shield in the West after Israel had suffered hundreds of fatalities from terror attacks carried out during the first year-and-a-half of the second intifada in 2000.