What next for Israel against Hamas?
Day Four of the Gaza War, and we’re heading into Day 5 with some mixed feelings and a lot of questions.
The shine of the first two days’ heavy aerial bombardment of Gaza is rapidly wearing off with targets running out and Hamas resurgent. The IAF is still attacking rocket crews and tunnels, but increasingly it is bombing buildings it has already bombed previously, what is called “Real Estate Targets” here. For days we’ve been led to believe that IDF ground forces are poised to enter the fray.
I’m seeing the IDF start a YouTube channel.
I hear the IDF is starting vlogs and blogs.
I’m seeing pictures of IDF tanks and soldiers massed all around the Gaza Strip – posing for pictures and looking as if they’re preparing for battle.
I’m seeing Israeli diplomats on twitter, SKY and FOX.
I’m seeing local and foreign correspondents broadcasting live pictures of Israeli battle formations from the Gaza border, an area that was on Monday decreed by the IDF as a closed military zone.
I see rockets as far as Beersheba and Kiryat Malachi, and Yavne. Yavne is not “in the south” of the country, it is very firmly in the center.
I see Israel sending in hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid into Gaza – aid likely also going to Hamas fighters.
I hear talk of a 48 hour ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, which will likely lead to a negotiated ceasefire binding both Hamas and Israel, but at the same time Hamas has rebounded from the initial IAF shock and awe operation and firing rockets into central Israel.
What I don’t see is the IDF fighting. In fact I’m seeing the IDF do everything but fight. The IAF is doing the best it can, but as we learned in Lebanon, it cannot finish the job.
What I don’t see is Hamas fighters in their foxholes, or in camouflage waiting in ambush, or positioning snipers and mortar crews. Why? Because they’re doing it far away from the eyes of the media, quietly, secretly, the way it’s supposed to be done.
I know that sending soldiers into the Gaza Strip to fight Hamas’ 20,000 strong army on its own turf is a painful thought. The decision cannot be taken lightly. But the air offensive seems to have run its course, and the rockets are still falling, so the government’s stated aim – to bring quiet to the south – has not been met. Hamas wants Israeli soldiers on the ground in Gaza. It wants to level the playing field and start ambushing tanks and troops. It has prepared a veritable killing field in Gaza for the IDF.
But if the IDF is not sent into Gaza and Hamas is allowed to remain intact, Israel would have suffered another defeat at the hands of a terrorist army. Hamas will be strengthened like Hizbullah has been following the war there in 2006. And even though the northern border has been quiet since then, Hizbullah has all but taken over the Lebanese cabinet.
The residents of the south say they are willing to absorb rockets and pain for as long as is necessary for the IDF to put an end to the Hamas rocket threat. If Israel agrees to a ceasefire now it will be hard for it to resume its assault in a several days. If Israel agrees to a ceasefire now while rockets are falling the people in the south will be very unhappy. Hamas will emerge victorious just by surviving, and Israel’s deterrence in the eyes of its Arab and Muslim enemies would have taken another blow. Hamas is not overly impressed, or broken, by the IAF’s strikes in the first two days of this Gaza war. Its military infrastructure is largely unscathed and the Izzadin Al Kassam Brigades are intact and ready to fight.
If Israel unleashes ground forces into Gaza we will suffer many casualties, and there is no guarantee that the rocket fire will be stopped. Hamas will want to keep the IDF bogged down in the Gaza mud [and it is still muddy there] for as long as possible, as well as draw in additional troops. It wants a large, stationary target to pick off at.
But if Hamas is not dealt a severe and lasting blow, it will continue to paralyze southern Israel, while gradually enlarging the area its rockets can reach. Sooner or later, Israel will have to remove Hamas from power in Gaza. Tellingly, both candidates for the next Prime Ministerial job have both vowed to destroy Hamas. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says the Annapolis peace process launched with the Palestinian Authority cannot be achieved as long as Hamas rules Gaza – and she has promised to take Hamas down should she win the February 10 elections. Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu has long called for a war against Hamas.
But what would the goals of a ground invasion be? To stop the rockets? This would entail taking over large swathes of Gazan territory and holding onto it. And for how long will the IDF hold onto this land? Until there is a new ceasefire deal?
Or would the goal be to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and kill as many Hamas fighters as possible? This would likely entail a huge invasion undertaken by several Israeli divisions sweeping right through the Gaza Strip all the way to the sea, wiping out pockets of resistance. The losses to the IDF from this type of operation would be unimaginable.
I do not envy the choices the Israeli leadership needs to make as we head into Day 5 of Operation Cast Lead.
A thought before ending: Israel chooses the names for its military operations from a computer program that spouts up random names and phrases. Israel’s enemies choose the names for their military operations according to their war aims.