Israel is preparing for a wave of lawsuits by pro-Palestinian organizations overseas against Israelis involved in the Gaza fighting, claiming they were responsible for war crimes due to the harsh results stemming from the IDF's actions against Palestinian civilians and their property.

Senior Israeli ministers have expressed serious fears during the past few days about the possibility that Israel will be pressed to agree to an international investigation of the losses among non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead; or alternately, that Israelis will be faced with personal suits, such as happened to Israeli officers who were accused of war crimes in Britain for their actions during the second intifada.

"When the scale of the damage in Gaza becomes clear, I will no longer take a vacation in Amsterdam, only at the international court in The Hague," said one minister. It was not clear whether he was trying to make a joke or not.

Another minister said that in contrast to the situation that existed following Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank seven years ago, this time attacked by Israel is under total Palestinian control. Hence, foreign journalists who enter the Gaza Strip to report on the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead will not be accompanied by Israeli officials or spokesmen, as they were in the West Bank in 2002.

The defense establishment has started to collect material in advance of the expected legal claims, and has prepared its defense regarding the private houses the Israel Defense Forces attacked in Gaza. The evidence includes material about where weapons were stockpiled, and sites from which Hamas was firing rockets. Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor), who is coordinating the humanitarian aid to Gaza, will also coordinate Israel's public relations efforts against the accusations of war crimes.

The main danger is expected to come from lawsuits brought by individuals and organizations, rather than governmental attempts to undertake official investigations. Senior officials expect that the visits of European leaders in Jerusalem this week, and statements by them that presented Israel's offensive as part of a justified war on terror, will aid Israel in future legal battles.

Israel will emphasize that it acted in self-defense in Gaza and expended great efforts in warning residents that their homes were about to be targeted and ordering them to vacate them. Israel used text messages, dropped flyers from the air and made a quarter of a million telephone calls to warn Gaza residents, as well as taking over and broadcasting warnings on Palestinian radio stations. Its defense will also provide evidence of how Hamas turned houses, schools, mosques and welfare institutions into weapons warehouses and booby-trapped them, explaining that they were attacked because they were legitimate military targets.