Some three weeks after a new round of fighting with Palestinian terrorists in Gaza subsided, a Qassam rocket fired from the northern Strip exploded Sunday evening in an open area within the limits of the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. There were no immediate reports of injury or damage.
The 'Color-red' alert system was sounded in Sderot and the surrounding area.
Prior to the rocket attack, a senior IDF official told AP Sunday that Israel is ready and able to topple Gaza's Hamas government, though it has no immediate plans to do so.
The official also said Gaza terrorists have steadily built up an already formidable arsenal, in part with weapons smuggled out of Libya, and now have rockets capable of striking Tel Aviv, Israel's cultural and business hub.
"If we have to conquer the whole Gaza Strip, we'll do it," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under Israeli military guidelines. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year military occupation.
Israel's volatile front with Gaza, a crowded seaside strip along Israel's southwest flank, has been largely quiet since an Israeli military offensive three years ago. The operation, launched in response to heavy barrages of rocket fire, killed some 1,400 people and inflicted heavy damage on Hamas.
But since then, Hamas has restocked its arsenal, and fighting has sporadically flared up, most recently late last month when one Israeli and 10 Gaza terrorists were killed over several days of violence.
Hamas officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Hamas, along with smaller terror groups, now possess sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, the official said. He said they also have rockets capable of reaching the northern suburbs of Tel Aviv, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Gaza, meaning that Israel's main population center is now within range.
The official said many arms have flooded into Gaza in the wake of the Libyan revolution, with looted weapons making their way through Egypt's Sinai peninsula and into Gaza through the border tunnels. He said the weapons shipping is taking place despite improved efforts by Egypt's new government to stop the smuggling.
He said the weapons have not changed militants' abilities, since armed groups already possessed these arms. But he said the amount of weapons has grown substantially.
One beneficiary, he said, is Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed group that sometimes rivals Hamas. Islamic Jihad was responsible for most of the latest wave of fighting against Israel.
"Hamas has more of everything and good stuff, but the Jihad ... got stronger by far, not stronger than Hamas, but it's a very strong organization now," he said.
Abu Ahmad, spokesman for Islamic Jihad's military wing, confirmed his group had beefed up its capabilities, including the new use of mobile rocket launchers. But he said there is still "a big difference between our humble arsenal and the occupation army's weapons."
"What I can say here is that the occupation army commanders and soldiers will find themselves in trouble if they commit any folly against Gaza," he said. "We have many new things that will be used if there is a new Zionist escalation."
For the past three years, Israel has generally been in a tit-for-tat cycle against terrorists, responding to rocket fire with pinpoint strikes against the attackers. Israel holds Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, for all attacks that emanate from the territory.
The official cited several scenarios that could trigger a heavier Israeli response against Hamas, including a deadly rocket attack on a school or school bus, a kidnapping of an Israeli soldier or the introduction of a new strategic weapon.
He warned, however, that a broad operation would carry a heavy price that would likely include military and civilian casualties both on the Israeli and Palestinian sides. "If you want a bigger achievement, then you pay a bigger price," he said.
AP contributed to the report