Were it not for last week's Islamist battering of Mumbai, the big story in Israel would be Friday night's mortar attack from northern Gaza against an IDF base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Eight troops were wounded, two seriously. Doctors were forced to amputate the leg of one of the soldiers. Hamas is planning for the next war. It wants to deter the IDF from interdicting its tunneling into Israel, and from blocking its placement of bombs along the border. When these efforts are stymied, as they were this weekend, Hamas takes to launching rockets and mortars at Israel in "retaliation." After the mortar hit the base, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i reacted with the usual tiresome bluster we've come to expect. He declared that Israel is getting close to launching a large-scale operation - "something we have not seen in the past." Everyone knows that Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposes a big push against Hamas. He's lately taken to reminding audiences that he is "minister of defense, not minister of war." Meanwhile, a ship from Libya, supposedly carrying 3,000 tons of medicine and humanitarian aid - and equally laden with propaganda value - is en route to Gaza. If our authorities act true to form, they will talk tough about enforcing the blockade, and then back down as the vessel approaches the coast. It disheartens us Israelis to have our leaders repeatedly make empty threats. It would be preferable for them to remain shtum. IT IS time to rethink the sanctions regime altogether. Clearly the enemy has little trouble bringing in almost everything it needs, including fuel, food and weapons, via an elaborate network of underground tunnels from the Egyptian Sinai. If the sanctions' goal was to turn Gazans against Hamas, it hasn't worked. They are one with Hamas. When Hamas blocks pilgrims from making the haj, the blame is directed against Egypt. When Hamas shells Israel, forcing closure of the crossing points, the blame falls on Israel. There is, anyway, enough PA, EU, US, UN and NGO money flowing into the Strip - not to mention suitcases full of illicit cash - to make a mockery of the idea of bringing Gaza to its knees. So long as the Strip is controlled by Hamas, Israel must not be a conduit for supplies - even when the Islamists are taking a respite from shooting at us. We should not, however, have any objection to Egypt opening its border to non-military supplies reaching Gaza. OUR INCOHERENT policies toward Hamas also encompass the legal system's stance toward the organization in Judea, Samaria and metropolitan Jerusalem. Some 20 Hamas "parliamentarians" taken into custody in June 2006, within days of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit's capture, are now being set free. Many of them were convicted of being members of an illegal organization, though some have yet to complete their trials. For reasons this newspaper finds hard to fathom, most have received light sentences. Some have already been released; others will likely be freed next year. Perhaps the Knesset needs to craft legislation granting the Defense Minister the authority to extend the incarceration of enemy prisoners where there is a pressing national security reason to do so. Anyway, in exchange for Schalit, Hamas wants 1,400 terrorists, among them 350 guilty of some of the most heinous crimes in the annals of Arab terrorism. The remaining "parliamentarians" are also on the list Hamas wants freed, though they will likely see daylight long before Schalit does. We would have preferred a rescue operation to bring Schalit home. But if Hamas members are to be traded, let them be only those taken subsequent to his capture. AS TO aggression emanating from the Strip, rather than issuing empty threats about an all-out invasion, Jerusalem needs to tell Hamas that active belligerence will result in the IDF systematically picking off their political and military hierarchy. As individuals, Hamas chieftains may be keen to sacrifice themselves for jihad (and an eternity with 72 virgins), but more than anything the movement wants to retain its hold over Gaza. If hunkered down and relentlessly hunted, they may find control slipping from their murderous hands.