Big armoured bulldozers with blades tall enough to plough through houses and carve a path for tanks and infantry were lined up on Israel’s border with Gaza on Monday, ready to invade if given the order.
More of Israel’s formidable Merkava tanks were on the way south to join the battle lineup on a plain of fertile farmland and fruit groves. Soldiers camped out next to their armour. The observant Orthodox Jews among them said their daily prayers.
Everyone is waiting to find out if it will be truce or war. Mediator Egypt says a deal to end the fighting could be close. Israel says it is prepared to move troops into Gaza but prefers a diplomatic solution.
In the Israeli town of Sderot, well in range of Palestinian rockets and mortars, the feeble shockwaves of a flurry of detonations jarred the ceiling as the local council met in a bomb shelter 6 metres (20 feet) underground to talk about the crisis.
Sderot has been here before. In December 2008 the same tank and bulldozer transporters were rumbling down Highway 34 past the sleepy town that has become synonymous in Israel with random rocket attacks, blast shelters and jangled nerves.
People are waiting to find out if there will be a re-run this time. Defiant rocket fire from Gaza drove many out in 2008 during a week of bombing from the air, artillery shelling and naval gunnery. Then Israel sent some 30,000 troops into Gaza.
The final toll was 1,400 Palestinians dead and 13 Israelis killed. Israel was condemned by some states for using “disproportionate force”.
“Many are wishing that our air force will carry on bombing (Islamist militant positions in Gaza). There is some fear of what an invasion will bring,” said Miryam Sassy of Sderot’s education board.
“There would be more violence, more bloodshed. But if we stop now we’ll be in the same situation again in one month or six months or a year.”