By most accounts, the difficulties encountered during the Second Lebanon War will dwarf the next battlefield scenario, with the IDF’s General Staff and Shin Bet warning that Gaza-based terrorists have prepared themselves by importing tons of military grade explosives into Gaza, along with millions of rounds of ammunition, automatic weapons, anti-tank rockets and much more.

The right-wing “doomsday prophets” as they were dubbed by the “peace camp” politicians are now sadly sitting back trying to understand how the obvious was and is still ignored. Since the IDF’s unilateral retreat from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hizbullah has turned itself into a formidable army, backed by Iran and Syria, supplied with many Russian-made advanced weapons. On the southern front, the government’s insistence on carrying out the Disengagement Plan of August 2005 has created a similar scenario. With IDF forces out of Gaza, the Rafiah border crossing to Egypt has served as a conduit for advanced weaponry, permitting Gaza to become a miniature Lebanon. Even after the increase in Kassam rocket fire into the Sderot and western Negev areas, the government refuses to order a major military operation into northern Gaza, giving terrorists even more time to prepare for the next war.

Displacing some 10,000 Gazan Jews in the Disengagement, while morally apprehensible to some, was not the worst of the government’s fears with Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin warning Gazan realities vis-?-vis weapons stockpiles is cause for true concern.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert by intelligence community accounts is permitting terrorists additional time to stockpile arms and prepare for a war by insisting the ceasefire be honored despite the firing of Kassam rockets from Gaza. Olmert is overruling the IDF’s General Staff and the most senior intelligence community officials by insisting the ceasefire be honored while terrorists continue setting up in Gaza.

While IDF forces operated in Gaza during the Second Lebanon War, the next encounter will be significantly more difficult, if for nothing else, due to the fact that Israel has all but lost all of its deterrence abilities.

Military analysts report that the Kassam rockets that have been pounding Sderot and western Negev communities during the past six years have undergone much work and there are now improved models capable of carrying larger warheads deeper into southern Israel, possibly able to strike strategic installations such as a major Israel Electric Company power plant.

Government ministers are still busying themselves with remaining in office, with senior ministers deflecting accusations to colleagues in the hope of surviving the Winograd Commission’s investigation into the Second Lebanon War. Defense Minister Amir Peretz, now at an all-time low in public opinion polls, is growing concerned over party primaries scheduled in a number of months. He has not only lost support for remaining defense minister in the polls, but even among his own party and ministerial colleagues.

The prime minister is desperately seeking a new political initiative, willing to endure the daily rocket attacks will still observing the ceasefire in the hope of returning to the negotiating table with PA (Palestinian Authority) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The spotlight of political negotiations could extricate Olmert out of his current predicament, the subject of numerous fraud investigations and the controversial national leader during the failed Second Lebanon War. Olmert is working in earnest to reach a deal with terrorists that will result in the release of IDF captive soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Further complicating current realities is the growing instability in Lebanon, with many predicting it is only a matter of time until the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora falls, leaving Lebanon to the hands of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and his Hizbullah terror organization. This would place Iranian influence at Israel’s northern doorstep, a reality that appears increasingly likely at present.

The army however is not just sitting back. Despite the shakeup that resulted following the war, a major simulated war exercise will begin in a number of weeks, lasting through the winter, taking many of the worst possible scenarios into account in the hope of preparing forces for the worst. The exercise, originally scheduled to run for a number of weeks will not continue for over two months.