* Public build-up sends warning to Hamas
* "It is not our intention to go to war," Peres
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Nov 16 Israeli tanks and troops
massed outside Gaza and the military said on Friday it was
calling up 16,000 reservists, signs of a possible imminent
invasion of the Palestinian enclave after 48 hours of air
Israel's warplanes, drones and helicopters appeared to shift
focus from suspected Palestinian rocket sites to the northern
Gaza frontier, where their bombs created incursion corridors by
clearing landmines or guerrilla gun nests.
The mobilisation was anything but secret and details put on
social media by the Israeli military appeared to be a clear
warning to the Hamas Islamists that govern Gaza to push for a
"It is not our intention to go to war, and we are hopeful
that this operation will not take a minute more than required,"
Israeli President Shimon Peres said.
Since being fought to a standstill in its 2006 war against
Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, Israel has been honing the
training of its regular troops and could mount a land invasion
of Gaza at short notice.
Public statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
suggest such an escalation has preliminary cabinet approval.
Among units already garrisoned outside Gaza is Israel's
paratrooper brigade whose commander, Colonel Amir Baram, said
last month that in planning tactics he had studied World War One
skirmishes in Gaza between British forces and the Ottoman Turks.
Should his troops be ordered in, Defence Minister Ehud Barak
told Channel 2 television, "they will need to go house-to-house,
and then we will need the lessons of the past".
RELIEF CRISIS RISK
Among those lessons learnt has been that Gaza's impoverished
population of 1.7 million is vulnerable to humanitarian crises,
which could spell international controversy for Israel.
Since the last Gaza war, of 2008-2009, the army says it has
assigned some of its regiments with Arabic-fluent "relief
officers" to direct Palestinian civilians away from danger.
To judge from the pace of the previous offensives in Lebanon
and Gaza, it could take several more days for Israel to train
and equip reservists for action.
The military declined to give details on where the
reservists would serve, but Israeli media said they included
personnel from homefront units that sound sirens during rocket
attacks from Gaza and advise the public on where to shelter.
The reservists being called up on Friday were among a total
of 30,000 whose draft was authorised by the Defence Ministry.
The scale of the potential mobilisation prompted one
commentator on Israel's Army Radio, who half-joked on air that
so many troops would risk "falling over each other" in Gaza.
Interviewed by the station, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom was
asked if Israel was preparing the military for possible
flare-ups on other fronts, such as Lebanon, which the Jewish
state has watched with concern given conflict in neighbouring
Syria and furore over the nuclear ambitions of Hezbollah's
"We are taking everything into consideration," Shalom said,
Veteran commanders say around 30,000 troops altogether took
part in the 2006 Lebanon war and 20,000 in the 2009 Gaza
invasion. The number of garrisoned troops always stationed
outside Gaza is a state secret.
"QUIET FOR THE SOUTH"
Yossi Peled, a recently retired cabinet minister from Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and a
former army general, said Israel did not seek to topple Hamas or
even to crush its outgunned guerrillas in "victory" battles.
"Quiet for the south (of Israel), that is the objective of
the operation, writ big," Peled told public television,
referring to years of sporadic rocket and mortar salvoes by
Hamas and other Gaza factions that surged in the last two weeks.
Though at least 340 of the missiles have been fired since
Wednesday's flare-up, the Israelis say they have made strategic
gains by destroying, on the ground, around 20 Fajr rockets with
75 km ranges - capable of hitting deep inside the Jewish state.
"They (Palestinians) may have a few left, but it is no
longer the menace that it was," said one security official, even
as Hamas and its allies managed to fire rockets at Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem on Friday, causing no damage or casualties.
Both cities had previously been beyond the reach of
Israel's saturation air strikes - which peaked on Thursday,
with a rate of one every five minutes, according to the chief
military spokesman - have also razed a large number of suspected
munitions factories and caches, the official said.
Another target has been fields where, the Israelis believe,
Hamas and other Gaza factions positioned rocket "silos" - buried
launch tubes, pointing across the border, that could be
Those rockets that survived Israel's pre-emptive attacks and
are fired have to get past Iron Dome, an air defence system that
uses small radar-guided interceptor missiles.
Israel has four Iron Dome batteries deployed and its Defence
Ministry said on Friday it had rushed forward production of a
fifth so that it could be deployed as early as the weekend.