A senior Israel Defense Forces commander said Tuesday that the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip were growing stronger, and that Israel would do everything in its power to ensure the security of its southern citizens.

"I recommend that the enemy not err like it did during Operation Cast Lead," GOC Southern Command Major General Yoav Gallant told a Negev committee meeting on Tuesday, in reference to Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip last winter.

Referring to the recent spate of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, Gallant said: "We hope that this is something temporary and passing. Our response is calculated from our goal of maintaining the calm in the south."

Gallant said that Israel's three-week incursion into Gaza last year yielded short-term results, adding that. "The problem was solved only temporarily. Hamas is continuing to strengthen."

Earlier, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom told the same committee that Hamas was continually carrying out acts of incitement and increasing its rocket attacks on Israel. He said that the government would not allow the rocket fire to continue.

"Our decision to respond to every rocket is not out of choice but out of a look to the future," he said. "There has been a grave escalation and the time has come for the international community to understand that our patience is limited."

Also on Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi briefed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the security situation along Israel's border, as well as the Iranian threat and the increase in Qassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Addressing the recent escalation in Qassam rocket attacks launched at Israel from Gaza, Ashkenazi told the committee that Hamas was not directly behind the attacks but that it should be held accountable nontheless.

"Hamas is not interested in losing control of the situation - but it could do more to stop the rocket fire," he said, explaining that "the IDF retaliates against Hamas targets because we regard them as the sovereign group [in the Strip]."

Turning to the Iranian nuclear threat, Ashkenazi said that "the Iranians are pressing ahead with their nuclear program. I hope that the trilateral sanctions will prove effective."

Ashkenazi added that it would be a mistake to rely on the opposition within Iran to neutralize the program's progress, as "the [Iranian] regime is strong and effective."

Ashkenazi also discussed the situation along Israel's northern border, saying it is quiet "but that could change."

"Hezbollah is deploying more forces north of the Litani River," he added.