The IDF is expected to present the government with a plan in the coming days for a large-scale operation in Gaza, following Wednesday's security cabinet meeting in which precisely such plans were requested.
Analysis: Creating a new Gaza reality
The security cabinet did not endorse any dramatic decisions to change the IDF modus operandi in Gaza, a message to the public - one government official said - that there is not one "silver bullet" that will put an immediate end to the rocket fire.
The security cabinet meeting was the first meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz since their relations were badly strained by a telephone conversation Peretz had with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday. Their interaction at the meeting was described as "correct."
Government officials said after the meeting that the type of activities that had been taking place inside Gaza since Cpl. Gilad Shalit's kidnapping would continue, and in certain instances be stepped up.
Since the kidnapping on June 25, the IDF has launched numerous short-term incursions into Gaza, conducted targeted assassinations, blown up arms smuggling tunnels and fired artillery rounds. Olmert told the cabinet on Sunday that some 370 armed Palestinians have been killed in these operations.
The IDF's new two-stage plan, which will be bought for approval to a ministerial forum called the Forum of Eight, was drafted by the Southern Command and includes taking control of Kassam launch sites in northern Gaza and launching raids into the nearby villages to destroy terrorism- and Kassam-production infrastructure.
The IDF does not plan to recommend the reoccupation of the entire Gaza Strip and instead will continue to launch battalion- and brigade-level incursions into the Palestinian territory to thwart terror activity.
The IDF is also considering sending troops into the Philadelphi Corridor near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where, according to security officials, maybe more than 100 weapons-smuggling tunnels are still located.
Government officials said that while the Kassam rocket fire was extremely painful, it did not pose a strategic threat to the country. The weapons smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, however, does represent such a threat, the officials said, and it was also addressed by the security cabinet.
The Forum of Eight, a forum set up during the war in Lebanon and empowered to make operational decisions, is made up of Olmert, Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Eli Yishai and Minister-without-Portfolio in charge of strategic affairs Avigdor Lieberman.
The Prime Minister's Office issued a communiqu after the security cabinet meeting saying that the cabinet decided to "continue operational activity in the missile-launching areas in the Gaza Strip," and "continue countermeasures against all stages of missile-launching activity, including know-how, production, storage and firing."
The cabinet also endorsed "specific countermeasures against those actively involved in terrorist operations," an apparent euphemism for a continuation of targeted assassinations. This issue led to a debate regarding who is a legitimate target, those about to carry out rocket attacks or Hamas political operatives who were once involved in terrorism.
In addition, the cabinet approved "operational activities against Hamas institutions in the Gaza Strip."
Regarding the arms smuggling, it was decided to "continue diplomatic efforts and cooperation with Egypt and the international community" in efforts to stop the massive terrorist infrastructure buildup in Gaza.
Even as the security cabinet was discussing the various military options in Gaza, Olmert's chief of staff Yoram Turbowicz and his foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman met Wednesday evening with Abbas's confidants Saeb Erekat and Rafik Husseini.
Israeli officials, however, pin little hope on Abbas's ability to end the rocket attacks.
In a related development, the White House announced that President George W. Bush would meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki next week in Jordan to discuss the situation in Iraq. US diplomatic officials said that Bush will not be making a stopover in Israel.
Amman will also play host next week to foreign ministers from some 30 countries, including the G-8 powers and most of the Arab world. Israel is not expected to be represented at that meeting.
In Gaza, meanwhile, infantry troops from the Givati Brigade's Zabar Battalion, backed by tanks, snipers and armored vehicles, advanced into northern Gaza on Wednesday in an effort to hunt down and destroy Kassam rocket squads. The operation was dubbed "The Right Combination," and was drafted by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant. As the operation continues it will feature Givati, Armored Corps and Paratroopers brigades which will spend the next 48 hours in northern Gaza destroying Kassam rocket infrastructure.
On Wednesday, IDF troops shot dead at least eight Palestinians, including one in Beit Lahiya who was spotted trying to plant explosives along the security fence separating Gaza from the western Negev. The soldiers also discovered three Kassam rocket launchers south of the town.
A soldier was moderately wounded after an anti-tank missile struck the home on the outskirts of Beit Hanun in which his unit had taken up a position. He was treated at the scene and airlifted to Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center.
On Wednesday morning, Kassam barrages continued to pound the western Negev as five rockets targeted the region. One rocket landed near a school, causing several pupils to suffer shock, and another rocket slammed into a kibbutz, damaging a chicken coop.
In the West Bank on Wednesday, IDF troops shot dead an Islamic Jihad operative who had opened fire at a military force operating in Jenin.