Israel is prepared for any kind of confrontation on the northern border or attacks on the Galilee, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters Saturday night after ground troops moved into Gaza.
Iran warned Saturday that Hizbullah would attack Israel if Israel were to expand its operations in Gaza to include a ground invasion.
In a prepared statement to media, who were not allowed to ask questions, Barak explained that the decision to order ground troops into Gaza was made as part of the government's "obligation and responsibility to the citizens of Israel."
He warned Israelis that the new phase in the Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign "will not be easy or short, and I do not want anyone to be under any illusion." The Defense Minister, a former IDF Chief of Staff added, "We are aware of the heavy responsibility involved…and the risk to soldiers."
The soldiers have trained intensively the past few days with advanced protection equipment and are backed by intelligence, artillery Air Force and Naval units.
He said that the IDF "has delivered a severe blow to Hamas" by hitting more than 400 targets with a death toll of 400, most of them terrorists who have attacked civilian populations and schools.
Both Defense Minister Barak and outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have warned for more than a year that "it is only a matter of time" before the government would have to stage a massive counterterrorist operation to stop escalating terrorist attacks on Israel.
The breaking point came after more than four weeks of escalating rocket attacks on southern Israel. Since the Israeli retaliation, Hamas has attacked the heavily populated cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod and Be'er Sheva as Hamas carried out its threats to deploy longer-range weapons that it has smuggled into Gaza during the recent and previous ceasefires.