The IDF Spokesperson announced on Thursday evening that 30,000 reservists were being called up as Israel prepared for a possible extended ground incursion into Gaza as part of Operation Pillar of Defense.
The large-scale call up is Israel’s first since Operation Cast Lead in 2008, and represents a major escalation of the two-day old operation, which is aimed to put a halt to rocket fire on Israel.
“IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz has authorized the army’s regular units to prepare for a ground operation,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai told Channel 2 earlier in the day.
Some of those called up for reserves would be dispatched to replace those units in their routine duties.
Mordechai said it was “far too early to talk about a ceasefire,” and that the army planned to continue its attacks on terror targets until the operation’s goals were met.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night announced the onset of a broad aerial and naval bombardment of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, and said the country’s military was ready to widen its operations until its objectives were reached.
Netanyahu’s national security cabinet also announced it had tasked the Israel Defense Forces with calling up extra reserve units, should the need arise, a possible precursor to a wider ground operation.
The military said it was ready, if necessary, to send ground troops into Gaza. The defense officials who said a ground operation was likely in the coming days spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive military plans.
The prime minister reiterated the IDF’s report that Israeli Air Force planes had “damaged strategic targets of Hamas in a precise fashion” and “substantially damaged the launch capabilities of rockets from Gaza” at central and southern Israel.
“The terror organizations hurt our citizens with premeditation, while they deliberately conceal themselves behind their own citizens,” he said.
Speaking after Netanyahu, Barak told reporters that “the accuracy of the Shin Bet’s information and the sharpness of the IDF’s operation brought about the assassination of Hamas chief of staff [Ahmed] Jabari and the neutralization of Fajr missiles and Hamas’s infrastructures.” He added that most of Hamas’s Fajr long-range rocket arsenal was destroyed in IAF airstrikes.
Barak noted that Operation Pillar of Defense would not be completed in “one fell swoop,” but that the objectives would be attained in due time.
The defense minister delineated the operation’s objectives as “strengthening deterrence, damaging the rocket arsenal, damaging and hurting Hamas and minimizing injury to the civilians on the homefront of the State of Israel.”
“The IDF will receive all of the support to do everything necessary in order to return calm to the South,” Barak said.
In an earlier address to the press, former deputy chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. (res.) Dan Harel said that “Hamas thought [Israel] would not retaliate” to rocket barrages in recent weeks. “They were wrong.”
Hamas has escalated its smuggling of high-quality weaponry recently, Harel explained, and “felt it has enough power to face down Israel,” Harel said. “We are in the early hours of the clash, and where it goes from here depends on Hamas’s activity.”
Besides the killing of Jabari, he added, “some of the long-range rockets of Hamas were destroyed. Fighter jets are bombing rocket cylinders buried in the ground. We’re trying to take away [Hamas’] launching capability. It will be difficult, but we’re doing our best.”
Israel does not wish to launch a ground operation, Harel said, but is willing to do so to stop the rocket fire.
“We’re not looking at going further on the ground, but if we have to do it, we will do it.”
Haviv Rettig Gur, Asher Zeiger and the Associated Press contributed to this report.