bombed Hamas Interior Ministry 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Ask an IDF officer how much time is left for the ground operation and the answer will likely be along the lines of: "We have a detailed plan that is not limited by time."
In reality, though, the IDF brass, including Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, recognize that starting Monday international pressure will begin to mount on Israel, and when the international pressure goes up the operations usually begin to scale down.
The diplomatic press is expected to pick up with the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the region. In addition, the US is working with the Egyptians on reaching a cease-fire and assessments in Israel are that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will want to resolve the current conflict in Gaza before Barack Obama is inaugurated later this month.
As the IDF ground operation entered its second day, defense officials expressed satisfaction with the results, claiming that the units had reached their targets and achieved their objective - to take over territory, prevent the launching of long-range Grad-model Katyushas, and hunt down Hamas terrorists and infrastructure.
While a week passed between the beginning of the aerial strikes and the ground offensive, they are part of the same operation, the plan for which was drafted three years ago and had been practiced a number of times.
The IDF is now in the midst of the second stage of the plan, the ground operation.
Under Galant, the Southern Command has been calling for a ground operation for the past year-and-a-half, since Hamas violently took over Gaza in the summer of 2007.
As Israel has done with the regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, the Southern Command set a "technological threshold" back then it recommended Hamas not be allowed to cross, and that, if the need arose, force be used to stop it from doing so.
The threshold was defined as the point when Hamas obtained large quantities of high-grade explosives (made in part with fertilizer) and improved propellant, and began using them together. The new propellant made the rockets more accurate and extended their shelf-life, and the new warheads replaced homemade explosives.
The political echelon and Ashkenazi were against a preemptive strike, and Hamas began manufacturing the rockets. The operation launched last week caught Hamas in the middle of its production cycle, after it had manufactured only a few thousand rockets and not the tens of thousands it was expected to create.
The current IDF ground operation is meant to serve as a supplement to the aerial bombardment. While more than 1,000 targets have been hit from the air, Hamas's military wing was not sufficiently weakened. The ground operation aims to change that. With predictions that diplomatic efforts will bear fruit by the end of the week, the IDF does not have much time.
What Israel ultimately would like to see is Hamas's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh or its chief of staff Ahmed Ja'abri being interviewed after the operation and repeating what Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said after 2006's Second Lebanon War with Hizbullah: "Had I known that this is what the IDF would do, I never would have fired rockets into Israel."