Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today decided against carrying out a large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip in response to a massive Hamas rocket attack and attempted kidnapping yesterday because no Israelis were killed in the Hamas attack, according to senior defense sources here.

He rejected any large operation in Gaza despite mounting evidence that officials say indicates Hamas in Gaza is preparing for a large-scale conflict with Israel.

In the first rocket attack it claimed responsibility for in five months, Hamas yesterday fired 39 Qassam rockets and 79 mortars from the Gaza Strip aimed at nearby Jewish communities. The projectiles were meant to serve as a diversion as the group attempted to storm an Israeli military base on the Gaza border to kidnap Israeli soldiers. The Hamas kidnap attempt was thwarted. The attacks occurred as Israelis nationwide celebrated the country’s Independence Day.

Abu Abdullah, considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ co-called military wing, told WND yesterday a truce Hamas made with Israel in Gaza last November is “officially over.” He threatened suicide bombings in Tel Aviv if Israel launched a raid into Gaza in response to today’s attacks.

Normally after major terror attacks, the prime minister’s office holds an immediate security cabinet meeting to determine Israel’s response, but military sources said Olmert refused to call the cabinet meeting. They said, instead, Olmert held a cabinet meeting today.

According to sources familiar with the meeting, Olmert only authorized the Israel Defense Forces to carry out limited, surgical operations in Gaza aimed at preventing another attack despite growing signs Hamas is preparing for a large confrontation.

While defense officials say Olmert is hesitating to carry out harsh measures against Hamas, the prime minister’s office today released a statement claiming “Israel will not hesitate to take harsh measures against those who try to harm its sovereignty by firing rockets into our territory, attempting attacks on soldiers, and (by) other means.”

Military sources here labeled yesterday’s Hamas attacks an “enormous escalation.” They said there have been indications for months Hamas and other major Palestinian terror groups used the cease-fire to improve the range of their rockets, smuggle in mass quantities of weapons, construct underground bunkers and build guerrilla-like armies.

“The longer we wait to deal with the Gaza threat, the more costly an operation in Gaza will be,” a top military source said. “Hamas has been preparing for confrontations.”

But the sources said Olmert stated during the cabinet meeting he will not order a large operation, because no Israelis were killed during the attacks, in which deadly rockets were fired at Jewish civilian population centers near the Gaza Strip.

“There is a tendency to minimize rocket attacks if civilians aren’t harmed or killed. This tendency is dangerous,” said Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Information Center, a media action organization focused on bringing attention to regular rocket attacks on Jewish towns near Gaza, including Sderot, a city of roughly 25,000 Jews about three miles from the Gaza Strip.

“It’s a miracle when people aren’t killed in these Palestinian rocket attacks; we’re talking about sizable rockets packed with deadly shrapnel,” Bedein told WND. “The citizens of Sderot and surrounding towns are traumatized. They live through an average of two rocket attacks per day. Their lives are completely disrupted.”

In November, Israel agreed to a truce with Gaza militants in which the Jewish state vowed to suspend anti-terror operations in the Gaza Strip in exchange for quiet. Since then, more than 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza, but the IDF largely has restrained itself from operating in the territory.

Said Bedein: “There have been so many rocket attacks in Sderot. An official here used to put red dots on areas in Sderot where rockets landed, but he had to stop because there were so many red dots you just couldn’t see the map anymore.”

Last month, Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s General Security Services, warned the Knesset that Hamas was sending hundreds of Gaza-based militants to Iran for prolonged periods of advanced training. He announced smuggling of weaponry into Gaza from the neighboring Egyptian Sinai desert recently increased six-fold and that Palestinian terrorist groups were taking advantage of the cease-fire to enhance rockets and create a complex system of underground bunkers.

He said Palestinian advances during the cease-fire period would make it more difficult for the IDF to confront Gaza’s terror infrastructure.

Earlier, Yoav Galant, chief of the IDF’s Gaza-area division, told reporters the Gaza truce enabled Hamas to grow from a ragtag terror group into a well-organized militia resembling an army – complete with battalions, companies, platoons, special forces for surveillance, snipers and explosive experts.

Galant compared Hamas to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia which last summer engaged in 33-days of confrontations with the IDF, bombarding northern Israeli population centers with thousands of rockets.

Terror leaders admit copying Hezbollah

Three weeks after the November truce was forged, Palestinian terror leaders, including militants from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization, explained to WND they would use the cease-fire to create Hezbollah-like armies in the Gaza Strip.

“We are turning Gaza into south Lebanon,” Abu Ahmed, northern Gaza leader for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group told WND, referring to the area in Lebanon in which Hezbollah built military bases and a large rocket infrastructure.

“We learned from Hezbollah’s victory that Israel can be defeated if we know how to hit them and if we are well prepared,” Abu Ahmed said. “We are importing rockets and the knowledge to launch them, and we are also making many plans for battle.”

The Brigades, the declared military wing of Abbas’ Fatah party, took responsibility along with the Islamic Jihad terror group, for every suicide bombing in Israel the past two years.

Hamas’ Abu Abdullah told WND in December his group is preparing for war against Israel.

“In the last 15 months, even though the fighters of Hamas kept the cease-fire, we did not stop making important advancements and professional training on the military level. In the future, after Hamas is obliged to stop the cease-fire, the world shall see our new military capabilities,” said Abu Abdullah, considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ declared “resistance” department.

Al Aqsa’s Abu Ahmed said his group is receiving help from Hezbollah to import long-range rockets and train in guerrilla warfare tactics.

“We have warm relations with Hezbollah, which helps with some of the training programs,” Abu Ahmed said. “We don’t have anything to be ashamed of – that we are dealing with Hezbollah and that we are receiving training and information from them.”

He said Hezbollah maintains cells in the Sinai.

“The Sinai is an excellent ground for training, the exchange of information and weapons and for meetings on how to turn every piece of land into usable territory for a confrontation with Israel,” Abu Ahmed said.

Palestinians establishing Gaza war bunkers

Abu Ahmed said Palestinian groups are developing war bunkers inside Gaza similar to the underground Hezbollah lairs Israel found during the war in Lebanon.

“Our preparations include the building of special bunkers. Of course, we are taking into consideration that Gaza is not the same topography as Lebanon,” Abu Ahmed said in December.

During its confrontation with Hezbollah, Israel destroyed scores of complex bunkers that snaked along the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border. Military officials said they were surprised by the scale of the Hezbollah bunkers, in which Israeli troops reportedly found war rooms stocked with advanced eavesdropping and surveillance equipment they noted were made by Iran.

Abu Ahmed said the most important “tool” in the Palestinian resistance arsenal was rockets. He said his group learned from Hezbollah that Israel can be defeated with missiles.

“We saw that with the capacity to bombard the Israeli population with hundreds of rockets every day we can change the strategic balance with Israel,” he said.

WND reported exclusively last month, Palestinian terror groups in Gaza claim they manufactured improved rockets that can travel deeper into the Jewish state, placing hundreds of thousands more Israelis within firing range of the Gaza Strip.

Abu Muhammad, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad terror group, which has been responsible for recent rocket-fire, vowed his organization would continue launching rockets deeper into the Jewish state.

He told WND Israel would be “very surprised and astonished soon by our rocket capacities. We will not abide by any cease-fire.”

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This article ran on WND on April 25th, 2007 at