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In attacking Hamas' regime in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces will try to "send Gaza decades into the past" in terms of weapon capabilities while achieving "the maximum number of enemy casualties and keeping Israel Defense Forces casualties at a minimum," GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant said.

Major General Galant, one of the key figures in the Israeli operation that began Saturday in the Gaza Strip, said this during discussions before the move. Israel's aim in the operation will be to significantly damage Hamas' leadership, tactical capabilities and smuggling routes, he said.

Despite efforts to keep IDF casualties to a minimum, Galant said that once troops are actually sent after the enemy, "what will take precedence is the need to fulfill the mission." He added, "Under no circumstance can we accept a norm that leaves missions unmet."

As for Hamas' military presence in Gaza, Galant proposed treating it as a force tantamount to a fortified infantry division with anti-tank capabilities, deployed in defensive formations. The urban setting - Gaza is one of the world's most densely populated areas - "presents complexities and difficulties," he said.

This setting dictates that ground forces closely cooperate with the Air Force. "This will underline our military achievements and reinforce our legitimacy in continuing the IDF activities," he added.

Hamas' militant force is several thousand strong, according to the Southern Command leader. "The longer Israel waits, the more capabilities Hamas will accumulate and develop, allowing Hamas to reduce Israel's relative advantage over the organization," Galant said before the operation was launched.

He also said that should Israel "be forced to launch the operation" instead of launching it at a time of its convenience, then "this will cost the Israeli side dearly on the battlefield."

Galant said he is concerned that Hamas might acquire surface-to-sea ballistic capabilities, allowing it to target Israel Navy vessels, as when Hezbollah nearly sank the INS Hanit off Beirut's shores in the summer of 2006.