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Senior defense establishment officials believe that Israel should strive to reach an immediate cease-fire with Hamas, and not expand its offensive against the Palestinian Islamist group in Gaza.

During meetings of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff and of the heads of the state's other security branches, officials have said that Israel achieved several days ago all that it possibly could in Gaza.

The officials expressed reservations about launching the third phase of Operation Cast Lead, preferring for it to remain a threat at this stage.

They added that it is better to cease the offensive now, just several days before the inauguration of new U.S. President Barack Obama.

Israel has proven, the officials said, that it is no longer deterred from either launching such an operation, from a confrontation with Hamas, from deploying ground forces or from using its reservists.

Some of the officials said that Israel can withdraw from Gaza even before Egypt deals with the issue of arms smuggling into Gaza from underground tunnels, as long as Israel threatens to respond swiftly and harshly to any Hamas truce violations.

In contrast to similar discussions from last week, there is a significant decrease in support among top defense brass for an expansion of the operation.

Among the minority who support broadening the Gaza operation are members of GOC Southern Command, who feel it should take place on the condition it be limited to several months' time, and the Shin Bet security service, which thinks a continuation would further weaken Hamas and bring Israel more favorable truce conditions.