A leading Israeli think tank released a report last week that revealed that since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Hamas has built a heavily-armed and well-trained standing army of at least 20,000 men.
In its report entitled "Hamas's Military Buildup in the Gaza Strip," the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center used intelligence provided by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) to detail the size, commanders and firepower of specific Hamas brigades.
Most of the weapons used to arm the force have been smuggled into Gaza via tunnels running under the strip's short border with Egypt. A significant amount of weapons and explosives was also brought openly through the border earlier this year when Hamas militants destroyed large parts of the security wall, which the Egyptians refused to reseal for several days.
The intelligence report went on to state that Hamas still requires several years to complete its planned military buildup, but is ready now to effectively combat a large-scale Israeli incursion using tactics employed by Lebanon's Hizballah terrorist militia when it battled Israel in the summer of 2006.
According to the report, "Hizballah's success in providing an asymmetric response to the IDF's might during the Second Lebanon War made it a role model for Hamas."
With an estimated 5,000-10,000 fighters, Hizballah's paramilitary force is far smaller than the Gaza-based Hamas army.
Israeli defense officials have been urging the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for years to crush the burgeoning Hamas terrorist infrastructure before it becomes so powerful that a direct confrontation would be too costly for Israel to stomach.