From the surprise air strikes that marked the beginning of Operation Cast Lead, and on through the 12 days of the military campaign since, the IDF has been working to a fairly meticulous timetable.
Objectives were mapped out ahead of time for each day, and they have generally been met on schedule or ahead of schedule.
The call-up of reservists has been carried out with similar precision, and those reservists are now completing their training and are ready for deployment.
Only the government has not yet decided whether to deploy them. The next stage of the IDF's day-by-day timetable for confronting Hamas envisages a significantly escalated offensive, penetrating deep into the heart of the densely populated areas where Hamas's military wing, still largely intact, mixes with Gaza's civilians.
In effect, this would represent the transition of the military operation, from deterring Hamas to drastically impacting its capacity to terrorize Israel - a transition in which the IDF is confident it would prevail, but one that carries with it a whole new order of dangers and challenges.
Nonetheless, as the IDF's former Planning and Operations chief, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland told The Jerusalem Post on Friday, the military aspect of this operation is the relatively straightforward part: Us and them, Israel against Hamas.
The diplomatic arena, by contrast, is immensely complicated, with numerous players bringing all manner of conflicting agendas. Eiland asserted that the political leadership should have been prepared from the moment the IAF went into action to push for the arrangement by which it wanted to concretize the desired "restored security for the South." It was the task of the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister, he said, to decide how to get the deal, via whose diplomatic offices. And that work, he said, began far too late.
The consequences of the apparent failure of the political leadership to parallel the IDF's pre-planning seemed evident in the confusion, if not amateurishness, that was prevailing in the diplomatic arena as of Wednesday night. Simultaneous efforts to formulate cease-fire deals were under way at the United Nations Security Council, via Egypt, via France, via the United States and more besides. The proposals that Israel thought French President Nicolas Sarkozy was taking to Cairo, officials said, were not the same ones that wound up being discussed with President Hosni Mubarak. The US was understood not to support the French proposals, although it was not entirely clear which set of French proposals Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not happy with.
Hamas, as of Wednesday night, was said to be cockily rejecting any arrangement that does not begin with a cease-fire, an Israeli military pullout and the unsupervised reopening of the Rafah border crossing. Plainly, this is anathema to Israel. Plainly, runs the Israeli interpretation, Hamas is not feeling particularly pressurized, even after 12 days.
Israel, for its part, does not want a cease-fire before satisfactory arrangements are reached to ensure no recurrence of the massive Hamas arms smuggling operation through dozens of tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor. And it does not want its ongoing freedom of military maneuver constrained by any cease-fire terms.
While the mediators fan out on their frequently uncoordinated tracks, the IDF waits for its political masters to make a decision. Is the government pushing for a cease-fire or approving the escalated next phase of the military operation? Indecision is the worst of all options for the IDF. As the Second Lebanon War made fatally clear, a static army deployed in enemy territory is acutely vulnerable.
In the meantime, the IDF was not silent on Wednesday night. During the afternoon, it warned thousands of Palestinian families living in the Rafah area immediately adjacent to the Philadelphi Corridor to leave because the area was about to be bombed. After nightfall, the bombings began.
Since Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, Palestinian homes have been built ever closer to the border, minimizing the exertions of the tunnel crews. First reports on Wednesday night suggested that the IDF was preempting the diplomats in starting to create a new reality at the Gaza-Egypt border.
Tellingly, the IDF's former Gaza commander, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia, has been serving in recent days as an adviser to the current OC Southern Command, Maj-Gen. Yoav Galant. A year ago, Samia penned an article for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs entitled "Weapons Smuggling from Egypt to Gaza: What Can Egypt and Israel Do?" His prescription: "The Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza should be the first priority for Israel. We should not expect the Egyptians to do the job for us, so this means we should clear the three kilometers from our side. As I have been saying for years, Israel should reoccupy Philadelhpi and should stay there until we have had a peaceful relationship with the Palestinians for 25 years."