WASHINGTON – Israeli officials, frustrated over continuing rocket attacks and growing weapons smuggling by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, threatened Thursday to expand ongoing security operations into a full-fledged invasion.
"Israel is not going to count its fatalities," Israel's Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter told reporters at a briefing in Washington. "Those areas in the Gaza Strip that, from there they are launching Qassam rockets, will be under Israeli attacks, and if it's needed, invasion…
"If it will be needed, we know exactly how to invade the specific part of Gaza, and to foil it. And the depth of our invasion is going to be decided by the distance of the Qassam rockets," Dichter said. "We've done it in the West Bank. We've done it several times in the Gaza Strip. We don't have to conquer the whole Gaza Strip."
Dichter, meanwhile, confirmed that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are mobilizing for a possible expanded ground operation in the Gaza Strip, adding that it won't be long before the Israeli government decides whether to fully invade Gaza to stop what he called "daily" rocket attacks emanating from the area.
"We won't bite our lips. We are waiting. I'm not sure [the waiting period] is going to last a long time," said Dichter, a former head of Shin Bet, Israel's elite domestic security agency.
Israel began expanding its operations in Gaza earlier this week taking control Thursday of a key road along the Egypt-Gaza border, where Israeli forces discovered 13 weapons-smuggling tunnels, which were blown up to prevent further use.
Israeli military sources said tons of explosives, sniper rifles, Grad rockets and dozens of Russian-made anti-tank missiles similar to the ones used by Hezbollah against Israel during the summer war in southern Lebanon have been smuggled through the tunnels and into Gaza in recent months.
"Every terror organization has its own tunnel," Dichter said, adding that common criminals, smuggling in ordinary items like cigarettes, have in effect formed a "joint venture between terrorism and crime."
Dichter blamed Hamas for the rocket attacks, saying the militant group had "authorized" attacks by numerous other organizations — including the al-Aqsa Brigades, a militant group tied to the Fatah Party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, told the Security Council Thursday that it was "clear to all that the Hamas government currently leading the Palestinian Authority is driving dangerously on a road that only leads to further isolation."
Israel, meanwhile, pointed the finger at Iran Thursday charging that it was funding, along with Syria, the rearming of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
"Hard evidence" of a "continuation" of such efforts is being analyzed in Jerusalem, Dichter said.
"Whether it's from Iran, through Damascus, through Syria, into Lebanon, or from Syria itself to Lebanon, the minute we'll be able to confirm this kind of information, it's going to be treated according to the [U.N. Security Council Resolution] 1701 agreement," Dichter said, "because then it demands sanctions against countries… who are supplying Hezbollah or any other organizations in Lebanon with all kinds of weapons."
Israeli troops, backed by warplanes and tanks, crossed into Gaza last June in response to the kidnapping by Palestinian militants of Israeli Army Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
The operation knocked out power throughout Gaza in a show of force meant to pressure Palestinian militants — specifically Hamas — into returning Shalit, who is still being held captive.
Dichter, who disclosed Thursday that Israeli security forces disrupted two earlier plans by Hamas to kidnap Israeli soldiers, said Israeli authorities have not even a "slight idea" whether any of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped this year are alive, dead, injured or unharmed." The kidnapping of two soldiers by Hezbollah militants precipitated the August war in Lebanon.
FOX News' James Rosen and Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report