The cabinet on Tuesday afternoon approved an IDF request to call up as many as 40,000 reserve combat troops.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz had asked for the additional troops earlier in the day. The added forces are slated to replace active duty battalions on other fronts, freeing them up for a possible ground incursion into the Strip as part of Operation Protective Edge.

The IDF used the authorization to immediately call up some 15,000 reserve combat troops on Tuesday afternoon, the Ynet news website reported.

The large call-up would seem to presage a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

The cabinet has yet to approve a ground operation, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Tuesday, following a meeting with the heads of the security services in Tel Aviv, that a ground operation was on the table, according to officials in Jerusalem.

“The gloves are off. Hamas chose this escalation and will pay a heavy price,” the prime minister said.

Officials  told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu had instructed the army earlier in the day to launch a “continuous, methodical, and forceful campaign” against terror groups in the Gaza Strip, including the territory’s Hamas rulers.

“The directive to the Israel Defense Forces is to be ready to go all the way,” the sources said.

The purpose of Operation Protective Edge is to “is exact a heavy price from Hamas, to hit it hard, and to create a significant attack that will lead to deterrence,” the sources said.

The IDF has the authority to do whatever is deemed necessary to restore quiet to the south, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said.

“The IDF has a free hand to act with whatever steps it determines,” he said. “The political leadership has effectively authorized everything the IDF has requested.”

Since its launch at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, the operation has concentrated on airstrikes on targets in Gaza, hitting some 150 targets, according to IDF figures.

The strikes have killed 12 people, according to sources in Gaza, and injured another 80.

Gazan terrorists have fired some 130 rockets at Israel since the beginning of the operation, with several being shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, in consultation with the IDF Home Front Command chief, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, and the director general of the Defense Ministry, Dan Harel, declared a special security situation on the home front, granting the chief of staff the authority to issue protective orders to civilians living within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Gaza Strip.

Among other stipulations, the declaration ensures that employees living within the declared zone will not be fired from their jobs or penalized for missing work while the fighting continues.