The army is urging the government to exhaust efforts to exert civilian pressure on the Gaza Strip before deciding to launch a military operation.
Senior officers understand that the government is under pressure over its failure to stop incendiary kites and other attacks from Gaza, and that the chances of war have risen significantly over the past few days. They are therefore preparing for the possibility that a military operation will be ordered.
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The military has given the government several possible scenarios for such an operation. These range from a few days of fighting in which Hamas’ strategic assets would be targeted to a major military operation, though neither the army nor the government wants the latter right now.
The army is urging the government to give it time to see if civilian pressure – primarily the closed Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza to most merchandise – will have an effect.
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For months, both the IDF and the Shin Bet security service opposed any steps that would make life worse for Gaza residents, believing that a deteriorating humanitarian situation would increase the chances of war.
But after realizing that the government was seriously considering military action in light of the ongoing attacks from Gaza, they decided instead to try to pressure Hamas by curtailing the flow of goods in and out of Gaza.
On Tuesday, the number of trucks entering Gaza through Kerem Shalom hit an all-time low – just 140 truckloads of food and three of medical supplies, for a population of two million people. The defense establishment also agreed to another measure they had opposed - limiting the distance Gaza's fishermen would be permitted out to sea.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday that the IDF was prepared for a military operation in Gaza if necessary, in an effort to deter Hamas attacks.
“The IDF is ready for any mission it is assigned,” he said, while observing a military exercise.
“If we’re forced to launch a campaign, we’ll be able to defeat any enemy. The IDF knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it. We’ll determine the rules of the game, not anyone else,” Lieberman said.
The IDF has been trying to send similar messages to Hamas via the media, through pictures of the Iron Dome anti-missile system, a military division's exercise in the south and statements by senior officers.
One thing the army hasn’t done, however, is order soldiers to shoot directly at incendiary kite-launching cells, as evidenced by the fact that these cells have yet to suffer any fatalities. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot has opposed shooting directly at the kite launchers and doesn’t intend to change this policy, despite the demands of cabinet ministers like Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bennett reiterated this demand on Tuesday during a memorial ceremony held for Capt. Hadar Goldin, a soldier from the 2014 war whose remains are still believed to be held in Gaza.
“A few hours ago, an incendiary balloon landed at a preschool where children were present,” Bennett said of an incident at a border settlement, which caused no casualties. “It’s better to reap condemnations from the world for having killed the launchers of incendiary kites than to eulogize children who, heaven forbid, were hit at a preschool. Anyone who launches a fire balloon at children is a terrorist who ought to be liquidated.”