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Operation Cast Lead claimed between 1,166 and 1,417 Palestinian casualties. Israel says Hamas deliberately interspersed its military positions in civilian neighborhoods in hopes that Israeli attacks would kill civilians and that Hamas could wage a propaganda war against the Jewish state.

The 2008-09 Gaza war prompted the U.N. Human Rights Council to appoint Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist, to investigate the war. He at first concluded that Israel deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians.

Mr. Goldstone recanted that charge last week in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post.

Because the covert campaign targets leaders and is often done in secret, the diplomatic damage to Israel for these actions tends to be muted.

The first example of this new tactic against Hamas happened in January 2010, when a Mossad team killed Mahmoud al-Mahbouh, a senior Hamas operative, in a Dubai hotel.

More recently, Israeli operatives in February captured Dirar Abu-Sisi, a Hamas engineer Israel accuses of designing military rockets for the group, aboard a train in the Ukraine, according to Israeli court documents unsealed Monday. Mr. Abu-Sisi told Israeli reporters he was innocent Monday.

On Tuesday, an unidentified aircraft fired a missile at a car carrying two men in Sudan. Israeli officials publicly neither confirmed nor denied any role in the operation.

However, a Hamas member of parliament, Ismail al-Ashqar, said this week that the attack was aimed at his nephew, Abdel Latif al-Ashqar, a Hamas commander, according to the Gaza based Safa news service. The government of Sudan has also said Israel was behind the missile attack.

In March, Israeli commandos boarded the Victoria, a German ship carrying Chinese-made land-to-sea rockets. Mr. Netanyahu said the ship was from Iran and headed eventually to Gaza.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman, said, “We are not looking only for Hamas leaders, we consider Hamas accountable for any rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. If we find a three-man rocket team, they will be targeted whether or not they are leaders. This is to prevent rockets from coming down on Israeli civilians.”

Col. Leibovich added that every attack in Gaza is authorized by a military lawyer and is “accordance with international law.”

“We are not looking for any escalation,” she said. “We do have operational plans in our drawers. Hopefully, we won’t have to pull them out, but we will not tolerate these kinds of attacks against Israeli civilians.”

The Israeli national security official, however, said there would be a steep price Hamas will pay if Israel determines that Hamas deliberately fired at an Israeli school bus.

“If this turns out this was a premeditated attack, that this was a planned decision to fire a rocket on a school bus, this is something we will have to not only counter but also make Hamas understand this action’s consequences,” the official said.