Acknowledging the IDF's failure to eradicate the firing of Kassam rockets into Israel, senior IDF officers told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that Israel would have no choice but to launch a massive ground operation into the Gaza Strip in the near future.
Heavy artillery barrages on unpopulated areas in northern Gaza continued on Tuesday as the army responded to Kassam attacks in recent days. But while officers said artillery fire on launch sites, as well as the targeted assassinations of key terror figures, did deter attacks to some degree, it was "only a matter of time" before the IDF would need to reenter Gaza which it left this past summer under the disengagement plan.
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"We know how to enter Gaza in a ground operation and it will happen," one officer told the Post
during a tour of the northern Gaza border. "The exact timing depends on the developments and when we will be fed up with the rocket attacks."
His forecast backed up former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon's call last month to "escalate military action against the Kassam launchers, even if it means entering the Gaza Strip."
According to the officer, soldiers stationed along the border were almost "helpless" when it came to stopping Kassam attacks.
"Even when we spot them, the terrorists launch the rockets out of the range of our gunfire," he said. While there are helicopters on standby, by the time they were called in to try to intercept the terror cells, the rockets were usually already in the air.
The northern border with the Gaza Strip, secured by the Givati Brigade's Shaked Battalion, was quiet on Tuesday as Palestinian Authority policemen, along with several herds of sheep, walked through the rubble of the former settlements of Nisanit and Elei Sinai. Northern Gaza was completely sealed off with an electrical fence following disengagement and in some parts - opposite Netiv Ha'asara - with a ninemeter cement wall.
Since the IDF's withdrawal, not a single suicide bomber has succeeded in infiltrating into Israel from the Strip. On Tuesday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the defense establishment had recently recorded 10 warnings of terrorists planning suicide attacks.
Also Tuesday, Mofaz told Army Radio that Israel would not hesitate to target Hamas leaders if the group resumes attacks against Israel.
Asked specifically about Ismail Haniyeh, the designated prime minister from Hamas, Mofaz said: "If Hamas ... presents us with the challenge of having to confront a terror organization, then no one there will be immune. Not just Ismail Haniyeh. No one will be immune."
"Gaza is sealed," one officer said. "There is no such thing, however, as 100 percent, but we are fairly confident that terrorists will not succeed in infiltrating into Israel from here."
Hamas, he revealed, was no longer involved in Kassam attacks, which were now mostly carried out by Islamic Jihad or other smaller terror groups. But even so, the rocket attacks were directed mostly at the Rutenberg power plant on the outskirts of Ashkelon - a strategic site the rockets have yet to directly hit.
"Most of the Kassams are fired at the Ashkelon power station," the officer said. "They look up and see the two smoke stacks and do all they can to try and hit them."
Meanwhile, OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy said Israel made "super-human efforts" to prevent the loss of innocent lives during military operations. On Monday, three bystanders were killed alongside two Islamic Jihad terrorists in an IAF missile strike in Gaza City.
"We are doing everything we can possibly think of to prevent innocent people from being harmed, but this is a war and nothing is certain," he said during a lecture at a conference on air power at Tel Aviv University.
Shkedy said the bystanders killed were not spotted before the missile was launched. "At the moment, it seems the pilot made no mistakes and there were no technical problems," he said. "We hit the center of the vehicle as it reached the least populated area."
The IDF said it planned to investigate but that preemptive operations would continue. "We haven't always been able to prevent harming bystanders, but we must remember that in 2005 one civilian was harmed for every 28 terrorists we hit," Shkedy said.