Analysis: A drill in the North, a war in the South

Hamas is no longer a small-time terror group but has turned itself into a strong and capable military.

While this week's nationwide emergency exercise focused attention on the missile barrages Israel might suffer in a future conflict with Syria, Hizbullah and Iran, Wednesday's events are a reminder of a conflict that is already taking place - the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. On Wednesday, Palestinian terror groups claimed two victories in their daily attacks against Israel. The first was the well-planned ambush against a force from the elite Egoz reconnaissance unit in Gaza during which gunmen killed an Israeli soldier. Later in the day, four terrorists infiltrated the Nahal Oz fuel depot along the Gaza border and shot dead two Israeli civilians. Since the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, defense officials have warned of Palestinian terrorists receiving military training from Iran and Hizbullah. The two attacks on Wednesday make clear that Hamas is no longer a small-time terror group but has turned itself into a strong and capable military. The Golani Brigade's Egoz unit is itself expert in laying ambushes and in the past few months of fighting in Gaza has killed dozens of terrorists and uncovered several impressive weapon caches. On Wednesday, it found itself caught in a well-planned Palestinian ambush. The attack at Nahal Oz was even more daring and further demonstrated the Palestinian terror groups' adoption of Hizbullah tactics. Like Hizbullah in its kidnapping attacks, the Palestinians used a blanket of mortar fire in the area near the Nahal Oz crossing to Gaza to provide cover and distraction for their infiltration. The attack came in the middle of the day and the terrorists' success in crossing the border fence, infiltrating the fuel depot and getting away exposed serious security flaws that need to be dealt with by the IDF's Southern Command. Even if Hamas did not carry out the attack at Nahal Oz, Israel holds the Islamist group responsible, since according to the defense establishment, "Nothing happens in Gaza without Hamas knowing about it." Following the attack, defense officials said Hamas was trying to create the impression of a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. For several days, the Palestinians have refused to come collect the cooking gas and fuel that Israel has left in tankers on their side of the border. The Palestinian claim has been that the fuel and cooking gas are not enough for their needs. One can be sure that if the defense establishment decides to shut down Nahal Oz for several days in wake of the attack, it will only be a day or two before Hamas successfully uses the fuel cuts to stage a humanitarian crisis and garner international support against Israel. The question now is what will happen to the so-called cease-fire Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman has been working to obtain between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Suleiman has been holding intensive talks in recent months with Hamas and Israel and while there is not a written agreement, Hamas has suspended its Kassam rocket attacks against Sderot and other Gaza-area communities. In the short term, Israel will most likely escalate its operations in response to the Nahal Oz attack by striking from the air and deepening its ground operations, like the one Egoz conducted in central Gaza on Wednesday. Hamas will then be left to formulate its own response, which could determine the outcome of the Egyptian efforts and answer the question Israel has been asking itself for the past two months - is Hamas really interested in a cease-fire?