Opinion

The Great Debate

Netanyahu hopes to avoid Gaza ground operation. Why he might order one anyway.

By Dan Ephron
July 10, 2014

An Israeli soldier rests atop a tank stationed on a field outside the central Gaza Strip

To understand whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to send ground troops into Gaza, it might help to scrutinize one of his decisions from this week.

While the Islamic Hamas group pummeled Israel with rockets and took deadly hits from Israeli warplanes, the cabinet announced that it had authorized the army to mobilize 40,000 reservists – a huge force by any measure.

A large operation against Hamas would certainly involve reservists. But when Israel genuinely prepares for military campaigns, it does so quietly, often censoring information about call ups and imposing gag orders on journalists.

Announcements, by contrast, are made when Israel is trying to send a message – to quell Hamas without having to put its own troops at risk. In reality, the army has called up only a few hundred soldiers to date.

In his long political career, Netanyahu has shown little appetite for ground campaigns and for the right reasons. Gaza is a messy place to wage war, with two million people crammed cheek-by-jowl into a tiny space.

But for all his reluctance, the Israeli leader could well find himself ordering an incursion anyway – mainly because there seems to be no effective mediator available to broker a ceasefire.

The latest flare-up with the Islamic group is the worst since 2012. It started with the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens last month, which Netanyahu blamed on Hamas. Israel responded with a broad sweep of the West Bank that left at least five Palestinians dead.

The tension level rose again when a 16-year-old Palestinian was burned to death on July 2, apparently by Jewish extremists. Hamas began targeting Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities with its long-range rockets – hardware it had been smuggling into Gaza for years.

Though Israel has managed to intercept most of the rockets with its “Iron Dome” missile shield, Netanyahu now faces pressure from hardliners in his coalition to go beyond the airstrikes, which have killed more than 70 people in Gaza. At a cabinet meeting earlier in the week, they urged him to deploy infantry units that can engage Hamas fighters directly and locate the group’s arsenals.

But ground campaigns never go the way they’re planned in Gaza, which Hamas has controlled since 2007. Netanyahu would likely face a domestic backlash if significant numbers of soldiers died in the operation.

If Palestinians died in large numbers, Netanyahu would risk international criticism and further isolation of Israel. The last time Israel invaded Gaza, in 2008, it killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and drew war crimes charges from the U.N.

So for now Netanyahu prefers to continue the air assault on Gaza until Hamas agrees to a long-term ceasefire – like the one the two sides reached after a week of intensive bombardments in late 2012.

The problem is that ceasefires require mediators – Israel and Hamas have no direct channels of communication. And Egypt, which brokered the 2012 truce, seems uninterested.

Egypt shares a border with Gaza and a peace accord with Israel, making it a natural candidate. But recently elected President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi views Hamas as an ally of the Egyptian movement he ousted from government last summer, the Muslim Brotherhood. His regime has been largely antagonistic towards Hamas, shutting down the group’s smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Sinai and restricting the transit of Palestinians at the border.

Other countries, including Turkey, might be willing to step forward. But Israeli military officials believe that only Egypt has the kind of relationship with Israel — and leverage with Hamas – required to broker a deal.

“Hamas wants greater openness at the border and only Egypt can deliver that,” says Itamar Yaar, a retired Israeli colonel who served on Israel’s National Security Council from 2003 to 2008.

“Unless Egypt gets involved, there’s a chance it will be a relatively long operation.”

Yaar predicted that Netanyahu would stick with air strikes as long as Hamas rockets were being deflected. But the longer the bombardments persist, the greater the chances are that one will get through and kill Israelis, raising pressure on Netanyahu to invade Gaza.

For its part, Hamas is unlikely to initiate a ceasefire. The group was in bad shape before the latest round of fighting – so bad that it may have nothing to lose.

Much of Hamas’s revenue had come from taxing the smuggling tunnels. Since Egypt shut them down, the group has had trouble paying the salaries of civil servants and in Gaza. Though the casualties are rising in the Strip, the rocket attacks have at least restored Hamas’s status as a pillar of resistance against Israel.

PHOTO: An Israeli soldier rests atop a tank stationed on a field outside the central Gaza Strip July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Comments
9 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I ask my government to defend us until:
-Hamas and similar terrorists in Gaza will dismantle all their rocket infrastructure.
Monitors will be placed on Gaza to take care that Islamist Iran will not rebuild the terrorist’s infrastructure The vicious cycle:
Will we – the Israelis accept it times again and again?
I request the Israeli government to put an end to this cycle.

Take 1:
Israel handover Gaza strip to Palestinian
Hamas rockets Israeli civilians living up 15 km from Gaza.
Israel retaliates.
The western countries demand end of hostilities..
They blame the defending Israel and protect terrorist hiding and firing from civilian sites
Islamist Iran reinforced the Hamas terrorists>

Take 2:
Hamas rockets Israeli civilians living up 45 km from Gaza
Israel retaliates.
The western countries demand end of hostilities.
They blame the defending Israel and protect terrorist hiding and firing from civilian sites
Islamist Iran reinforced the Hamas terrorists

Take 3:
Hamas rockets Israeli civilians living up 100 km from Gaza.
Israel retaliates.
The western countries demand end of hostilities..
Including Obama, the Muslim brotherhood protector (Hamas terror organization is the Gaza branch of the muslim brotherhood)
—-
I ask my government to defend us until:
-Hamas and similar terrorists in Gaza will dismantle all their rocket infrastructure.
-Monitors will be placed on Gaza to take care that Islamist Iran will not rebuild the terrorist’s infrastructure
-The international community will demand to abolish Hamas charter calling to call all the Jews and Hams will comply

Posted by factssheet | Report as abusive
 

People should rather have a mind opened by facts than closed by lies.
Find the difference:
3 news on one day.
1: Today hamas rocketed indiscriminately Israeli civilian with hundreds of rockets
Today Israel transferred some 200 trucks carrying food and “basic supplies” to Gaza.
Close your eyes and imagine that that England transferred food supply to Nazi germane during the ww2 blitz period.
You can’t envision this?
The defending Israel values are unmatched.

2: Hamas: All Israelis targets for missile attacks.
3: CNN— Israel is making warning calls to civilians in Gaza before airstrikes to reduce casualties.
(no one did it in history—including the USA and EU countries)
Hamas represents the Arabs death ideology
Israel represents the Israeli value of life

Posted by factssheet | Report as abusive
 

“The last time Israel invaded Gaza, in 2008, it killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and drew war crimes charges from the U.N.”

And those charges resulted in… Nothing happening.

Posted by UKantHndleTruth | Report as abusive
 

At this point, mediation would be a waste of time. Both sides are too hot-headed to stop fighting.

Posted by WestFlorida | Report as abusive
 

Israelis are “Palestinian” too. The Arabs causing the aggression in that area are probably not locals.

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive
 

This is the work of an apartheid government. How we in the US can support this is just crazy.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive
 

Why does Reuters have to approve the comments for this article, and not the rest?

This conflict cannot be resolved if the governing power is an occupying apartheid government.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive
 

What has changed is that Israel is less willing to put up with the Islamists. Fatah has rejoined Hamas. Hamas wants all the Jews in Israel DEAD. It says so. By merging with Hamas, Fatah has endorsed that view.

So Israel is stuck between a Europe who is willing to watch Israel die and Hamas who is willing to kill Israel. Right now Israel is sending food and supplies to the people who want to kill them. Right now Israel is providing free electricity to the people who want to kill them. Europe says that isn’t enough.

It looks to me like Israel’s choices are suicide or the bad opinion of Europe. Hamas can make a choice for peace. It doesn’t need a mediator.

But it is choosing suicide instead of peace.

Israel has no choice but to continue.

Posted by Yaakovweeeeeee | Report as abusive
 

It is not too late to make a war with Iran. The agreement on nuclear weapons has not yet been undersigned. From Europe, the news of Bagdad, are very good because they don’t reach anymore the top-ranking reports occupied on the sreens by Israel and Hamas. But It is likely that the hate is growing as fast among ISIL as among flying Palestinians. The destroying of the Muslims Brotherhood is a more revolutionnary event in the middle-east that anything which was happening before.

Posted by meleze | Report as abusive
 

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