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Hamas wants to create a "balance of terror" with Israel in the Gaza Strip, in order to deter the Israel Defense Forces from making a major ground forces incursion into the territory, IDF officers have concluded on the basis of the organization's greatly accelerated munitions acquisitions over the past few months.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 20 tons of explosives, anti-aircraft missiles and antitank missiles have been smuggled into Gaza.

Senior IDF officers told Haaretz recently that Hamas is working to improve its offensive capabilities, with an emphasis on Qassam and Katyusha rockets, while at the same time establishing a solid defensive position in order to prevent the IDF from entering built-up areas within the Strip. By increasing the range of its missiles, the deadly force of their warheads and above all, by using high-quality blast explosives, Hamas hopes to heighten the threat to the northern and western Negev from the direction of Gaza.

If Hamas succeeds in improving the rockets in its possession, it will be able to store them for months, as opposed to just days, as it does now. That would enable the organization to fire massive salvos at the Negev for days at a time during periods of escalation, as Hezbollah did in northern Israel during the second Lebanon war.

The defensive preparations are aimed mainly at Gaza's cities, and are being carried out mainly by Hamas's popular army, the Murabitan. These militants have been organized by specialty in preparation for possible Israeli attacks.

Arms smuggling is also continuing. Recently, Hamas took possession of a shipment of dozens of Russian Concourse antitank missiles. These relatively precise missiles have a range of 4.5 kilometers, similar to those used by Hezbollah during the war. IDF officers believe that Hamas will try to smuggle in hundreds more.

The IDF's assaults in Gaza, which have continued with little hindrance since the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit over three months ago, are a source of great frustration for Hamas. More than 300 Palestinians have been killed in the operations, many of them militants. One IDF soldier has died, a Golani soldier hit by friendly fire. The Hamas leadership in Damascus is applying heavy pressure on militants in Gaza to cause casualties in the IDF's ranks.

Hamas is searching for ways to combat Israel's military superiority in this confrontation, which it sees as the result of Israel's use of tanks and relatively well-protected armored personnel carriers combined with the Israel Air Force's effective deployment in hunting down Hamas operatives and Qassam launchers.

Officers in the IDF Southern Command see a guiding hand behind Hamas's efforts to expand its power: They believe that the organization's leadership abroad is bending the armed forces in Gaza to its own needs. The IDF is still working on ways to combat Hamas's plans. The next stage of IDF operations in the Strip is expected to include an expanded offensive focused on impeding weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza via Rafah.