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Israel prefers to achieve its military aims in Operation Cast Lead by way of an aerial assault though it will not be deterred from a wide-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip, a top aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the American television station PBS on Wednesday.

IDF Brigadier General Mike Herzog, Barak's chief of staff, also said that Israel has no intention of toppling Hamas, though it does seek to create a deterrent balance that will reduce the threat of rocket fire at the western Negev.

"Our aim is not to crush Hamas," Herzog said. "It's not to topple the Hamas regime. This is not the aim set forward by the cabinet to the IDF.The aim is to change the equation, to create deterrence, so that they will stop firing for as long as possible."

"If we're going to talk about the truce or a cease-fire, we want to make sure that this is a sustainable onem," IDF Brigadier General Mike Herzog, Barak's chief of staff, told PBS on Wednesday. "We do not want to go back to a situation where our towns, and villages, and our citizens are being fired [at] daily."

"We're talking about a densely populated area in the Gaza Strip, but militarily we're, of course, much stronger than Hamas," Herzog told PBS. "But we realize that this is a high-friction conflict if you go there with boots on the ground."

"We are ready to do what it takes to bring Hamas to stop the firing of rockets on citizens, on our civilians," he said. "If we can do it through pinpointed air strikes, then so be it. If not, we're not deterred from further actions on the ground."

In reference to the recent rocket fire on Be'er Sheva, Herzog said the Hamas projectiles have been smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the six-month lull (tahadiyah). Were the status quo to continue, Hamas gunmen would obtain rockets and missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

Herzog's interview is rare given that IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has forbidden senior officers from talking to the press during the Gaza operation. Air force and southern command officers may not be interviewed on any aspects of the operation, nor can they provide background information to journalists off the record.

Herzog, the brother of Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog, formerly served as a senior officer in the General Staff's intelligence and planning branch. He is considered an acting officer in his current post as Barak's chief of staff.

Ashkenazi has thus far refused to promote Herzog to the rank of general as was promised to him by Barak's predecessor, Amir Peretz. Herzog was also promised to be named the government's coordinator of activities in the territories. Tension between Barak and Ashkenazi was palpable this week over the question of whether to accept a French cease-fire initiative.