The IDF General Staff has ordered the Southern Command to prepare for a possible large Gaza operation that could occur within the next few months, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Preparations include finalizing operational plans and distributing them between the various units that would be deployed inside Gaza.

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During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s anti-Hamas ground incursion launched in late 2008, the IDF established brigade-level units that combined armor, infantry and combat engineer forces.

A similar model would likely be applied in a future operation in Gaza as well.

The Gaza Division, under the command of Brig.-Gen. Yossi Bachar, is spearheading the preparations for such an operation, which senior officers said could be significantly larger than Cast Lead.

“Every officer will need to know where he needs to be with his troops and what his mission will be,” a senior officer explained. “Gaza has changed and the weaponry in Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s hands has significantly grown in quantity and quality.”

Hamas is believed to have a fighting force number over 20,000 armed men who are split into five brigades corresponding with different sections of the Gaza Strip. Each brigade is then split into a number of battalions. In addition, Hamas also has special teams for surveillance, anti-tank missiles, mortar and rocket fire and anti-aircraft shoulder-to-air missiles.

The IDF, officers stressed, has not received orders from the government to launch an operation and the preparations are being done so that it will be prepared at a moment’s notice and if needed.

“Gaza is possibly Israel’s most volatile front today,” a member of the General Staff said this week. “It is a front that can explode at any given moment.”

While the situation along the Gaza border is currently relatively quiet, a single attack by Hamas or another Palestinian terrorist group – by a Katyusha rocket or an anti-tank missile – could force Israel to retaliate in a way that would lead to a broader escalation.

In April, for example, Hamas fired an anti-tank missile at a school bus, killing 16-year-old Daniel Viflic and just moments after it dropped off a group of schoolchildren.

In 2011, 680 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel, including 80 longrange Grad-model Katyusha rockets in comparison to just 2 Grads in 2010.

Currently, the IDF believes Hamas’s interest is to retain quiet in Gaza as it works to stabilize its control over the territory.

At the same time though, the IDF is extremely concerned with the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry into Gaza – such as the Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile and shoulder-to-air missiles that were stolen from Libyan military storehouses.

The IDF believes Hamas and Islamic Jihad currently have just a few hundred advanced anti-tank missiles in Gaza but that the number will continue to increase reaching close to 4,000 by 2017.

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