Jerusalem -- If Israel launches a full-scale ground attack in Gaza, they will face the al-Qassam brigades. It is Hamas' strongest arm of terrorism, responsible for most of the bloody operations inside Israel. The military branch is also in charge of defending Gaza.
Israel's top military leaders say they are preparing for a large ground operation to confront Hamas, to stop weapons smuggling from Egypt, and to stop the barrage of rocket attacks on Israelis living near Gaza.
Many live in the town of Sderot, just a few miles from the Gaza border. They have endured hundreds of rocket strikes this year alone.
Sderot protestors blocked traffic recently in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv after an attack seriously wounded an eight-year-old boy and his older brother.
More Targeted Assassinations?
The terrorists seeming ability to fire rockets at will has prompted some Israeli officials to call for more targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders, right up to the former prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.
"From my point of view, anyone who is responsible for terror-sheltering it guiding it, giving support, which Haniyeh is doing, he's in my opinion a legitimate target to be hit," said Israeli Cabinet Member Meir Shetreet.
Last month, a number of Hamas loyalists were killed, including the son of one of Hamas' most militant leaders, Mahmoud al-Zahar.
Al-Zahar wept and responded by raising a napkin spotted with his son's blood to signal Israel revenge is coming. That revenge could come in the next battle over Gaza.
Under the Green Flag
One of the Hamas leaders in that fight is Nizar Rayan. His goal is to unite all the factions under the green flag of Hamas.
Rayan's name is on the Israeli hit list. He is known for being ruthless and a strong believer in the need to eliminate Israel. He is seen by a lot of terrorists as a morale booster and a mentor.
From a bunker at the Israeli-Gaza border, Rayan calls for a jihadist common cause against Israel.
"From this tiny window, we see the raped Palestine," Rayan said. "And in Allah's will, this window will expand to include all the fighters in the struggle."
Rayan is honored and respected by his front-line followers as if he were a leader from on high. He is confident that Israel can be defeated in Gaza.
"While we are standing by for the next fight, the hours of worship will be even sweeter," he said. "We tell the state of aggression, all the Palestinian people will confront you, and all the sons of Hamas are wholeheartedly united to fight you."
The mid-January conflict in Gaza was the bloodiest operation between Israel and Hamas since Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005.
"This escalation is forcing us to find new reasons that enable us to hurt the Israeli occupation badly," said Hamas spokesman Younis al-Astal. "Because of its crimes, the occupation is stirring us up to find more strong options and methods that will continue until we defeat the occupation."
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government has so far held back on a full-scale war with Hamas, knowing that casualties could be high. But a new poll shows two-thirds of Israelis support a large ground operation. Short of that, the leaders of Hamas can expect that the bounty on their heads will rise.
Hamas Claims Victory for Israeli Withdrawal
The Al Qassam Brigades were the primary instigators in the past week of unprecedented violence between Israel and Hamas. The chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Forces says that 90 of the more than 100 Palestinians killed in the Israeli military foray into northern Gaza were terrorists. Of those, some -- if not most -- would have been members of the Al Qassam Brigades.
The group also spearheaded the launching of scores of missiles into Sderot and the surrounding area and expanded the reach of its missile targets to Ashkelon, a city of 120,000, located 11 miles north of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas claimed victory over the Israeli army when it withdrew Monday from the edges of the Gaza Strip. But Israeli defense officials caution that Hamas shouldn't celebrate too soon. Its ranks were devastated by the strength of Israel's response. Although the recent maneuver in Gaza lasted only three days, Israel's security cabinet this week will review plans for a more sustained military operation in Gaza, with the possible goal of preempting Hamas as the rulers of the troubled territory.