Plan is to get Hamas to end rocket attacks and agree lasting ceasefire, but strategy has failed before
As tanks and troops once again carve up the Gaza Strip, Israel is talking of "applying pressure" to force Hamas to agree to another, more durable ceasefire on Israel's terms and of "dismantling the infrastructure of terror" to prevent the Islamist group from launching rockets into the Jewish state.
The assault will "punish" not only Hamas but Gazans who, the Israelis argue, will then put pressure on the Islamist party to behave itself.
The invaders are following a well worn military and political blueprint that has guided numerous Israeli incursions over recent years. But after each invasion, the rocket fire resumed — it was even continuing today as Israeli troops rolled through Gaza — and Hamas is still firmly in control.
Israel says it will continue the assault until Hamas bows to its central demands to end the rocket attacks, disarm and release the soldier it captured in 2006, Gilad Shalit.
Yossi Alpher, a former adviser on peace negotiations to the then prime minister, Ehud Barak, supports military action but questions whether Israel's strategy will be any more successful now than it has in the past. "I'm concerned because the logic of this operation is if we hurt them hard enough they will cry uncle and they will agree to a new ceasefire on terms acceptable to us," he said. "The way for them to foil this strategy is for them simply to refuse to accept a ceasefire on terms acceptable to us, no matter how much pain we're inflicting. This is a movement which glories in martyrdom and victimhood."
A Hamas condition for a ceasefire is that Israel lift its three year blockade of Gaza that has helped wreck the economy and left many of its 1.5 million residents hungry, poor and trapped.
Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence service, wrote in the Israeli press today that the government in Jerusalem could have stopped the rocket attacks long ago by lifting its siege of Gaza. But, he said, Israel has a broader interest — to ensure that it is the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas, who is popularly known as Abu Mazen, and not Hamas that is politically dominant in the Palestinian territories.
"If Israel's goal were to remove the threat of rockets from the residents of southern Israel, opening the border crossings would have ensured such quiet for a generation. But the real objectives of the operation include preserving Fatah's status as the sole sovereign in the Palestinian Authority and as a partner for negotiations," he said.
Halevy argues that ultimately it may be in Israel's interest to negotiate with Hamas if it helps to curb the Islamist party's political influence.
"Surprisingly, bringing Hamas into these [negotiating] processes will also be a lifesaver for Fatah under Abu Mazen's leadership … A broad-based arrangement to end this campaign is liable to produce for Israel a number of major political achievements and might herald the beginning of a chance for it to promote its interests in dealing with a united Palestinian leadership," he said.
Alpher agrees that Israel should talk to Hamas.
"Hamas doesn't want to talk to us, so that's not so simple, just as Hezbollah doesn't want to talk to us, they don't recognise us. But as a strategic approach to Hamas, the offer to talk and recognise is another viable option which we have not taken," he said.
But there is an election looming in Israel — with, until now, the disastrous 2006 invasion of Lebanon as its main backdrop — that is expected to return the hardline Binyamin Netanyahu for a second stint as prime minister.
Netanyahu says that not only will he not talk to Hamas but that the present military operation should be expanded to wipe it out of existence.
That is not only Netanyahu's view but also just about the only political strategy he can use to keep his Likud party to the fore as his principal opponents, the foreign minister and Kadima party leader, Tzipi Livni, and defence minister and Labour leader, Ehud Barak, ride the wave of public support for the war.
Barak in particular is drawing the political benefit of being the defence minister in charge.
A week ago, opinion polls showed his Labour party winning just 11 knesset seats in the 10 February election. The latest survey gives the party 16 seats.
Livni and Netanyahu are neck and neck with 28 seats.
Until now, Likud has appeared the more likely to be able to put together a governing coalition involving parties even further to the right. But if Labour's fortunes continue to rise, Barak and Livni have a fighting chance of putting together a new administration.
Much will depend on how the war goes, which is why the ground invasion carries such political dangers for the government.
Right now nearly 80% of Israelis "very much support" the week-long air attack on Gaza, with less than 4% saying they are opposed.
However, opinion is more evenly divided over the ground assault, with only 42% of Israelis backing it. Nearly 40% said the military action should be restricted to attacks from the air.
Those numbers suggest that a large number of dead soldiers or the failure to stop the Hamas rocket fire could see Barak's support slump again.
Netanyahu will be waiting in the wings to press his case to dismantle Hamas. He is unlikely to be able to do it, but he will certainly win support on the right by trying.
From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/04/israel-gaza-invasion-troops-hamas/print (taken July 25, 2009 -- emphasis added)