The deputy commander of the IDF Southern Command said Tuesday a major incursion into Gaza is becoming inevitable, Xinhua news reported in an article by reporter David Bender.

"I think we can't avoid another confrontation; there's a lot of weapons in the Gaza Strip, a lot of terror groups," Col. Jonathan Bransky told reporters during a tour of the border area in which Bender participated.

The terrorists "try to hit civilians. Just in the past days 39 rockets and mortar shells were shot into Israeli territory trying to hit civilians, and that's something we can't let [happen]," Bransky explained.

Bransky's comments, as quoted by Bender,  were made near Kibbutz Nahal Oz on the Gaza boundary. In April, Hamas fired a laser-guided anti-tank rocket at a school bus travelling along the highway - killing a 16-year-old Israeli student.

Bransky told reporters the IDF aim was to "defend the civilians and to allow them to live as normal a life as they can, using the roads that are not immediately threatened by anti-tank missiles; that's why this fence is here and a part of the road is in the news."

"Our duty is to be ready all the time for every kind of operation, and that's what we do. If there's an escalation, we're ready for it. We know exactly what to do and where to hit Hamas and the other terror groups in the Gaza Strip," Bransky said.

"The IDF has improved in many ways, including intelligence- gathering, and understanding what's happening in Gaza; their intentions and capabilities, their fighting style, their arms and training - however you look at it, we've gotten a lot better in the last three years, and that improvement will be put to the test the moment the decision is made," Bransky said.

Regional observers say Hamas may be waiting to renew hostilities after the release later this month of 500 terrorists, the second batch to be freed in a deal reached in October that saw 1,027 security prisoners released in return for abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Observers also note Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is making moves to secure his hold on the Likud and strengthen his coalition, leading to speculation he may be planning to make a series of difficult decisions of national consequence – perhaps including an Iran strike and Gaza incursion – ahead of or during the coming 2012 US presidential contest.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently joined Bransky, former Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, and fellow former IDF chiefs of staff Shaul Mofaz, Moshe Yaalon, Dan Halutz, and Gabi Ashkenazi in saying a major incursion is the only way to end the incessant mortar and rocket barrages from Gaza that hold some one million Israelis hostage on a daily basis.