Following high level security deliberations Tuesday morning Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to expand the military operation in Gaza, including beginning preparations for a ground operation.
The deliberations took place following a Monday night rocket barrage on Israel and the feeling in Jerusalem that Hamas is interested in escalation.
No time limit was put on the operation but senior diplomatic officials said it could be "for a long time."
Preparations are underway to further call up reservists and in a number of hours there will be announcements by the IDF Home Front Command on how citizens should behave.
The objective of the operation, according to the officials, is to return quiet to the South, but the equation that "quiet would be met with quiet" was no longer the operative principle.
During the day Netanyahu expected to talk to a number of world leaders to explain Israel's position and another security cabinet meeting will be held later in the afternoon if necessary.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that the time had come to "take off the gloves" against Hamas.
"Hamas chose to escalate the situation and it will pay a heavy price for doing so," the prime minister said.
Following the launching of Operation Protective Edge
to extinguish Hamas rocket fire, Israel declared a "special situation" in all areas of the South within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning.
A special situation is a legal decree that allows various authorities to safeguard public safety through a variety of means reserved for times of conflict.
The decision came after Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon completed a security evaluation
meeting with the Home Front Commander, Maj.-Gen. Eyal Eizenberg, as well as other civil defense chiefs, in which they examined the latest developments in the clash with Hamas.
"We are prepared for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end within days. Hamas is leading the current confrontation to a place in which it seeks to exact a heavy price from our home front. There is a need for patience," Ya'alon said at the end of the meeting.
The defense minister called on the public to behave in accordance with Home Front Command safety instructions, adding that it is vital that the Israeli home front not sustain casualties.
"In recent hours, we have struck with force and hit dozens of Hamas assets
. The IDF is continuing with the offensive effort, in a manner that will exact a very heavy price from Hamas. We will not tolerate missile and rocket fire on Israel, and we are prepared to expand the campaign through all of the means available to us, to continue striking Hamas," he continued.
"I'd like to send my support to residents of the South and to local government leaders there, who are displaying leadership and responsibility, and are allowing us to continue with the offensive efforts," Ya'alon added. JPost.com Staff contributed to this report.