(photo credit: AP [file])
Claiming that Hamas has jumped light years ahead militarily since Israel's disengagement from Gaza, a high-ranking IDF officer on Thursday called for a large-scale military operation to be mounted in the Strip within "a limited window of opportunity" that might close in less than a year.
He said Hamas now had 13,000 men under arms, had dramatically increased weapons smuggling since its violent takeover of the Strip last month, and was working to attain a Katyusha rocket capability.
"There is an opportunity today since the world has not yet become accustomed to the new Hamas entity, and Hamas has not yet fully completed strengthening its military capabilities," the officer said, adding that Israel was on a "collision course" with the radical Islamic group.
The Egyptians, Americans and Europeans could not be counted on to stop Hamas, the officer said, adding: "The final job will have to be done by no one else but us."
In response, government officials said the options that the IDF officer advocated were not the only ones with which the government was being presented. "We hear other options from the IDF and senior defense establishment" about how to deal with Gaza and Hamas, they said.
The officials clarified that a major military incursion, as the officer advocated, was not the position presented to the government and not the policy of the cabinet.
The officer further revealed that the IDF Southern Command has operational military plans to take on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and recently conducted several weeks of training for infantry, armor, and engineering units. He added that while recent operations in Gaza along the border were aimed at preventing Hamas and Islamic Jihad from planting bombs and digging tunnels in the area, these operations did not deal with the "foundations of terror" in Gaza.
According to the officer, the IDF has the necessary capabilities to stop Hamas, and all that is needed is the go-ahead from the government.
Hamas, the officer revealed, has established a full-fledged military force in Gaza consisting of four brigades, corresponding to the different sections of the Gaza Strip. The brigades are made up of a number of battalions and platoons and include special forces. In addition, Hamas had smuggled in 20 tons of explosives via the Philadelphi Corridor from Sinai over the past two months, he said.
Furthermore, the officer claimed that the group had obtained a large number of advanced antitank missiles, as well as an unknown number of antiaircraft missiles. Hamas, he said, was working to obtain long-range Katyusha rockets, and was also investing to improve the range of its cache of Kassam rockets, he said.
"They have an organized military," the officer said, adding that Hamas's infantry now had some 13,000 recruits. "They have the manpower, they have the training, they have the motivation; the principle is creating a balance of deterrence against Israel."
The officer also noted that over the past two years since Israel's disengagement from Gaza, several hundred Palestinians had traveled from Gaza to Iran to receive training. On average, he said, each Palestinian who trained in Iran was capable of training 400 Palestinians upon his return.
He said that Israel was basically helpless when it came to stopping Palestinian terrorists from entering or leaving Gaza through the Rafah Crossing, despite the presence there of European Union monitors.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.