Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant told reporters watching occasional plumes over the horizon that he was sure that Shalit, kidnapped by Palestinian militants early Sunday morning, was alive and being held in Gaza.
To be sure, the escalating conflict is about more than just one kidnapped soldier. After Palestinian groups launched more than 170 homemade rockets on Israel in the course of a month, there has been increased domestic pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to do something to stop the attacks.
Analysts say that unlike former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had a history of taking an aggressive military stance, Mr. Olmert is considered relatively "untested" as a national leader, making it harder for him to display patience. Mr. Sharon and cabinet members who supported the disengagement plan – Olmert included – said that once Israel was no longer occupying Gaza, it would respond harshly.
Still, some Israeli news commentators worried in the morning papers whether Israel was about to get bogged down in Gaza again. Olmert said in a speech in Jerusalem that the operation would be limited. "We have no intention of recapturing the Gaza Strip. We have no intention of staying there."
On Nizmit Hill, however, where the crash of a Kassam rocket could be heard and felt, soldiers mused that Israel would wind up spending much longer here than it did during the week-long evacuation of settlers from Gaza.
General Galant suggested that from Israel's point of view, the ball is in the Palestinians' court.
"What we see is that the men in Hamas and in the Palestinian Authority are capable of giving us more information, or of influencing the people who are holding him," Galant said of the kidnapped soldier. If Shalit is returned and the Kassam rockets stop, he indicated, the Israeli offensive would end.
In Gaza, the kidnapping is helping to bolster support for Hamas at a time when its military wing has lost support by taking a back seat to Islamic Jihad and the Public Resistance Committee (PRC). Hamas militants had been honoring a calm in attacks on Israel.
"They want to prove that they are resisting Israel, and they want to gain more popularity," said Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based economist.