(photo credit: )
Before Operation Cast Lead was launched on December 27, the security cabinet assigned the IDF three primary missions.
The first task was to hurt Hamas. After 11 days of air strikes and ground operations in Gaza that have killed hundreds of Hamas operatives and destroyed hundreds of targets - including weapons caches, smuggling tunnels and command-and-control centers - the IDF feels like its has made progress.
The second objective was to create a new balance of deterrence with Hamas. Here, too, the IDF feels like it has succeeded in getting Hamas to understand that it underestimated Israel.
With its control over Gaza wavering, Hamas must acknowledge that it cannot fire rockets into Israel like it has for the past eight years, the IDF believes.
The third task, the one the IDF is still working on, is the government's demand that the army create a "new security reality" in the South.
To meet this goal, the IDF launched the ground operation last Saturday night and is considering expanding the operation in the coming days.
At the moment, the IDF feels that Hamas would agree to a new cease-fire with Israel under the same terms as the last one that collapsed in mid-December, meaning that Israel opens the crossings into Gaza while Hamas is meant to rein in the other Palestinian factions and stop terror activity there.
This, however, will no longer be enough for Israel.
The government and the IDF are both of the opinion that the format of the last cease-fire was insufficient. What is needed now, they say, is a new deal under which Hamas will not only stop all the terror and rocket attacks against Israel but will also stop its military buildup.
This time, Israel is saying, the cease-fire or "arrangement" - as it is being referred to by the top IDF brass - will be on Israel's terms, not Hamas's.
The IDF troops currently deployed inside Gaza are working on taking over their assigned areas and clearing them of terrorists and weapons. They are, for now, on the move and fighting aggressively, as one officer said from the field on Tuesday.
But soon they will stop and dig into their positions. When this happens, Israel will have to make a decision - either expand the operation deeper into Gaza, or pack it up and bring the boys home.
While the diplomacy is being led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the IDF is involved in all of the talks and has made some basic demands, foremost among them a complete stop to the smuggling of weapons and explosives into the Gaza Strip.
"If we stop today and the smuggling is not stopped, then next time they will be able to fire into Tel Aviv and not just Ashdod and Beersheba," one defense official explained.
One of the options being considered is deploying an American military engineering force along the Philadelphi Corridor to assist the Egyptians in stopping the smuggling.
At the moment, there are several American military engineers who serve as advisors to the Egyptians, but the IDF is hoping to upgrade the force and to have a larger and more permanent American presence on the ground along the Gaza-Egyptian border.
Israel is also reviewing several other possibilities, including the deployment of a multinational force inside the Gaza Strip, as well as the upgrading of a European Union monitoring force which, until Hamas's violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007, was deployed at the Rafah crossing.
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