IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi file

The army is ready for a large-scale counter-terrorist operation in Gaza, but is waiting for the government to give the go-ahead, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Monday at a conference of senior army officers. Government leaders say the army is free to act in defense of Sderot, Ashkelon and other southern towns.

The year 2008, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi explained, will be a year of many... challenges on the military front.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority rocket attacks continue.

Speaking at a gathering of hundreds of IDF officers on Monday, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi declared that the IDF is "prepared to expand and extend its operations [in Gaza] as needed and in accordance with [government] decisions." He went on to say that he has "complete faith" in the ability of the army to meet the security needs of the State of Israel. The year 2008, Lt. Gen. Ashkenazi explained, will be a year of many such challenges on the military front.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Olmert said, "The security establishment has the tools and all of the necessary confirmations to deal with [the] threat" of rocket attacks on Israel. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Israel would not rule out any possible course of action. "IDF operations are continuing day and night and will even be expanded," he said.

Last April, the Chief of Staff told the government at a cabinet meeting that "the only solution to continued Palestinian rocket fire into the western Negev is to implement a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip." However, as of Tuesday, the IDF is continuing to implement a policy of targeted airstrikes against terrorist cells and leaders in the Gaza region.

This week, Israeli intelligence sources warned that Hamas terrorists, including senior leaders, will now be targeted in response to rocket attacks. The head of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, the Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, has reportedly gone into hiding in order to avoid Israeli retaliation. On Monday, an Air Force strike in Rafiah targeted a vehicle carrying Hamas terrorists. The car was hit and two people were reportedly injured.

PA attacks continue, however. Gaza terrorists fired two rockets at Ashkelon and a second Israeli town on Monday. The rockets landed in open areas. Early morning Tuesday saw seven rockets and mortar attacks in the area of the Negev communities Alumim and Nachal Oz. No injuries were reported in the shellings, but a Golani Brigade soldier was lightly injured in a shootout with a group of armed terrorists in northern Gaza. He was transported to a hospital for treatment.

Overnight, IDF infantry, tanks and combat engineering forces entered northern Gaza to carry out operations against the terrorist infrastructure there.