Someone in the higher echelons of the IDF is a very good chess player. It is obvious to me that Olmert and Peretz are being advised on how to proceed by someone who has thought out the scenario ahead of time.
We are at war with an enemy that is not conventional, so our superior army cannot be used in the way it would be against a normal threat. If we had no morals, and could just go in and go after the terrorists without worrying about civilians, we would have won a long time ago. If the outside world treated us like any other country in the world, and stopped supporting the Arabs with money and endless positive propanganda spin, we would also have won a long time ago. What can you do? We're Jews and won't wage an uncivilized war (and I wouldn't want it any other way) and the powerful combination of the need for Arab oil and the deep roots of anti-Semitism will always make it harder for others, even America, to give us a fair shake.
When the terrorists decided to launch Kassam rockets at Sderot and Ashkelon, and attacked an army base in the Negev and kidnapped an Israeli soldier, they were acting on the assumption that it was a win/win situation for them. The anti-Israel propaganda spin means that the whole world conveniently skips over the initial aggression, and only focusses on the defensive reaction by us. So that when the IDF is finally pushed into taking action, and goes into Gaza, they win the propaganda war, which leads to more aid coming in. If the Israelis don't come in, but negotiate a prisoner swap, they also win - especially on the street where families want their sons, and sometimes daughters, out of jail.
There is no lose in this scenario, because the terrorists don't value the same things we do. If the IDF comes in and kills innocent civilians, which is basically inevitable when the terrorist hide behind them, the terrorists don't mourn - they rejoice. More good publicity. If the terrorists manage to kill IDF soldiers, even if the losses are way out of proportion to their own losses, than they also rejoice - not only because of the pride involved, but because they know that all of us in Israel mourn the loss of even one of our sons, and the left uses this pain as a way to pressure the government to refrain from action in the future.
So how do you proceed in this kind of a war? You figure out how to change it from win/win to lose. You figure out what the other side really values and you go after it.
The arrest of the Hamas "legislature" was a brilliant move. I have been reading a lot of complaints from right wingers moaning about the fact that these guys weren't assasinated right off, but I think this is short sighted. Turning these terrorists (elected officials or no) into just a stain on the pavement would have been very satisfying emotionally, but it would not have influenced the specific situation we are in now. We have a kidnapped soldier to worry about. Putting a substantial chunk of the Hamas government in jail changes the whole picture. Now Hamas has something to lose - their own political power. There already has been talk of Abbas taking over and setting up an "temporary emergency" government. We all know that this theoretical temporary government could become a permanent one, especially because both the United States and some in Israel see Abbas as a moderate. The people elected to the Hamas government are also not just ordinary citizens. They have families and connections which led them to their positions of power, and the money and jobs to give away that they have access to as politicians will be lost if they rot in jail.
Haaretz reports that these Hamas government members have been arrested for terrorist activity, and that the Attorney General has approved this in advance. This, of course, is just icing on the cake - to neutralize our own left wing's opposition to this move.
Right now the IDF is in Gaza - but there are no casualties. No bloody pictures of civilians dead - and no funerals of soldiers in Israel. The IAF is keeping the pressure on by bombing bridges and empty buildings, and taking out power stations. The buzzing of Assad's palace was also a clear message to him - that he has something to lose by supporting Mashaal. So far the terrorists haven't won anything.
Will the IDF have to go in anyway and kill terrorists and sustain losses? Will there inevitably be the bloody pictures? Will the IDF release these Hamas members in exchange for our soldier? I don't know, but at least, for this short span of time, a very good chess player has given Israel the chance to turn a losing scenario into one where we can possibly win.