One round of escalation may be over, but the IDF is already preparing for the next one – despite sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Sunday, military officials estimate that the relative lull will be followed by a large confrontation at the Strip.
Last month, after terror organizations fired Grad rockets at Beersheba and Ashdod for the first time since Operation Cast Lead, voices within the military echelons claimed Israel's reaction was too restrained. This time, however, the voices are different.
"Everyone knows that the IDF has much greater power and capabilities, and many in the public believe that we should use all our force," a security establishment official told Ynet.
"But on the ground, the reality is much more complicated, and there are other considerations, including unwanted escalation on the other side. Therefore the balancing point is very important. We need to know how to transmit a message to the other side, while at the same time knowing where and when to stop," the source added.
While some regarded the response to the firing of an anti-tank missile at a school bus as being too harsh, IDF senior officials are in agreement that the next round of battle is only a matter of time.
"The Hamas in the Gaza Strip has been busy rebuilding its forces for the past two years, and this can only mean that we are facing an all-out confrontation," said a senior IDF officer.
Military officials have voiced concern that the deterrence effect achieved following Operation Cast Lead has been undermined, and that Hamas might carry out a terror attack that will spark another round of fighting.
"The dynamics in this area is based on results, that is to say an event with harsh results triggers a broader reaction, and therefore the situation is highly explosive and sensitive," said the officer.
Sources within the IDF estimated that the clashes around the border fence will continue, "Everyone is on high alert; it's clear that the terror organizations have a high motivation level, and therefore the soldiers know that the next event will take everyone by surprise," he said.
Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian source claimed Monday that Israel and the Palestinian factions had reached an unwritten agreement for a state of calm. Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted the source as saying Egypt was working to strike a deal and has asked UN envoy to the Middle East Robert Serry to help in negotiations.
According to the source, Israel pledged to halt strikes in Gaza in exchange for a halt in rocket fire.
'Wide-scale operation not in our interest'The political echelon shared the feeling that the current round of violence is close to an end. Jerusalem officials estimated at the end of the Security Cabinet meeting that Hamas and Israel would cease fire.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that if Hamas were to cease fire, Israel would do the same. However, Jerusalem officials denied that Israel had reached an understanding on a truce with Hamas, despite a Palestinian declaration.
Addressing the possibility of a wide-scale operation in Gaza, a cabinet minister told Ynet that "in any event, it is not in our interest to launch an extensive operation until after Independence Day, so for now we seek to calm things down. However, if the rocket fire is resumed and Israel hit, there's no telling what will happen."
Defense establishment officials believe that during Tuesday's Security Cabinet meeting, the ministers will approve funding of more than $200 million for four additional Iron Dome missile defense system batteries. The move is expected to be approved by the government on Sunday.
The new batteries will be activated only in a year or two, and the defense establishment seeks to purchase a total of 12 or 13 batteries.
Addressing Iron Dome's operational abilities against the Gaza rocket fire, a state official said that "although the system is functioning in an outstanding manner, it's not obvious that we'll be able to deal with a massive barrage of missiles for long, mainly because of financial constraints.
"Therefore, our current goal is to restore calm and lead to a truce. All ministers who attended today's cabinet meeting agreed that Israel must avoid an operation in Gaza and act according to Hamas' conduct."
Attila Somfalvi and Shmulik Hadad contributed to this report
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