Haaretz reports that in the face of ongoing rocket and mortar attacks into Israel by Hamas, including some 22 shells fired Thursday and Friday, the Israeli cabinet has approved a " 'limited operation ... that will combine an air attack with some ground operations" in Gaza.
In statements Thursday, senior security officials were unwavering. "Anyone who harms Israeli citizens and soldiers will pay the price," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, speaking at the graduation of a pilots' training course at Hazerim Air Force Base, said, "We will have to use all of our might against the terror infrastructure and create a different security reality around the Gaza Strip."
Israel is planning a relatively short operation that will cause maximum damage to Hamas "assets." The defense establishment says the operation would not necessarily limit itself to stopping rocket launches and that during the operation, daily massive rocket launches can be expected. Hamas might fire rockets with a range beyond the 20 kilometers it has used so far.
Haaretz adds their sources said an Israeli ground operation would result in "many civilian casualties, especially in the Palestinian refugee camps."
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports that both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was in Cairo Thursday discussing Gaza with her Egyptian counterpart, warned Hamas that Israel was prepared to act to stop the Palestinian militants' ongoing rocket attacks.
"Hamas needs to understand that our aspiration to live in peace doesn't mean that Israel is going to take this kind of situation any longer," Livni said at the end of the meeting.
"Enough is enough. And while we are working with the pragmatic leaders, trying to change the situation on the ground in the West Bank, we cannot tolerate a situation in which Hamas continues to target Israel, Israel's citizens, and this situation is going to be changed."
Her sentiments were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who called on the people of Gaza to turn against Hamas, the Islamist political and military organization that holds de facto control of the area.
"I'm telling them now it may be the last minute. I'm telling them stop it, we are stronger," Olmert said in an interview with Arabic satellite television channel al-Arabiya.
"There will be more blood there. Who wants it? We don't want it."
The increase in Israeli military rhetoric comes soon after a six-month-long truce between Israel and Hamas ended last week. Since then, Israel has suffered an increasing number of rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the conflict is further complicated by the impending political contests in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. Israel is set for an election on Feb. 10, while the term of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas –a member of Fatah, Hamas's rival – is set to expire on Jan. 9.
In an editorial, The Jerusalem Post argued that the time for Israeli negotiation with Hamas had passed, and that Israel must instead attempt the "methodical elimination" of Hamas's leadership.
As a matter of grand strategy, Israel must not tolerate a hostile entity anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Hamas cannot be allowed to metastasize into a second Hizbullah.
Israel's immediate objective must be to make it impossible for Hamas to govern in Gaza. Yet the choice is not between a massive land invasion and paralysis. The proper method of fighting Hamas is a methodical elimination of its political and military command and control. Concurrently, IDF artillery need to shoot back at the sources of enemy fire. ...
Any resort to force by the IDF raises the possibility of unintended consequences. Israel's home front could be hit hard. Hizbullah could launch diversionary attacks. The Arab street in non-belligerent countries could roil. If enemy non-combatants are killed, nasty media coverage is certain.
We may express regret; but we must not apologize. Whatever happens, we must be resolute: Hamas must be stopped.
Another article in the Post noted, however, that Hamas said it was prepared for Israeli attempts at assassinating its leadership. An aide to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the Post that Hamas would quickly elevate new leadership to fill any vacuum, and that "Hamas is a popular movement that doesn't center on this or that leader.... Almost every member of Hamas is fit to become a leader."
About 80 trucks filled with commodities were expected to cross into Gaza. Among the goods were 400,000 liters of fuel and 120 tons of cooking gas.
The decision to open the crossings at Kerem Shalom, Karni and Nahal Oz came after requests from international aid groups and Egypt, said Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. In addition, he said, Israel has no desire to hurt the civilian population in Gaza.
Lerner said the decision to keep the crossings open would be made on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit called for calm from both Hamas and Israel, reports Haaretz. Mr. Gheit also warned that renewed fighting between Israel and Hamas could imperil the process of freeing Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Gaza militants in 2006.
"The situation has slided again to a confrontation," Gheit said. "We are hoping that both parties would restrain their actions. Hence they would allow us to build and to establish that situation where by we can bring an end to the tension, then to restore the quiet and then we would work on Gilad Shalit anew."
Gheit said the security situation was linked to talks regarding a prisoner swap that would entail the release of Shalit. A military operation by the IDF would be hazardous to such a process, he said.
"He is part of a bigger and more general problem between Hamas and Israel," Gheit said, referring to Shalit. "My understanding from our own intelligence is he is okay and well treated."