Israel Considers a Ground War in Gaza

Article Summary
Amir Rappaort considers the implications of a military ground assault on Gaza in context of the international pressure and the damage to Israeli-Egyptian relations.

The fire directed at the Dan metropolitan area increased the chances of an infantry incursion into the Gaza Strip. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has already approved the mobilization of some 30,000 reservists. Foreign diplomats are fleeing Gaza. Now the battle turns toward world opinion; as soon as the headlines announce Palestinian fatalities, the pressure to end the operation will mount. 

Even if Fajr missiles had not been fired at Tel Aviv and Rishon LeZion last night, it is more than likely that the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] would have set out on a ground operation in the Gaza Strip in the setting of the second stage of Operation Pillar of Defense. The chances of carrying out this stage immediately after the airstrikes and the destruction of many missile and Katyusha launchers were high from the outset.

Hamas' actions, which put another 1.5 million civilians under siren anxiety, even though no fatalities or damage in the Dan region were recorded last night, have rendered this probability much higher. It is this possibility of a ground operation that underlies the defense minister’s decision to allow the mobilization of up to 30,000 reservists.

Egyptian sources believe that Israel intends to launch a ground operation shortly, which has prompted Cairo to make unrelenting efforts to thwart this move. Foreign diplomats stationed in the Gaza Strip are leaving — much to Hamas' disgruntlement. If the IDF were indeed to embark on a ground operation deep in the Gaza Strip, its objective is likely to be two-fold: to intensify the pressure on Hamas leaders to request a cease-fire, while concurrently reducing the scope of the rocket fire at Israel’s southern towns, and even central Israel, by seizing some of the launching sites. Yesterday’s events illustrate that airstrikes alone are not enough to stamp out the rocket fire. Over 200 missiles and rockets were fired at Israel yesterday [Nov. 15], a number similar to the scope of Hezbollah fire during the Second Lebanon War. The number is also much higher compared to what Gaza fired at Israel during Operation Cast Lead four years ago.

Will a ground operation in Gaza in the coming days be similar to Operation Cast Lead?  It appears not, and for the following reasons: international pressure on Israel to halt the operation is expected to pick up concurrently with the launch of a ground operation; there is concern over possible strategic damage to the relations with Egypt. And evidently, there is also concern that both sides will sustain many casualties. These reasons will therefore spur the IDF into launching a quick yet lethal move. It seems that the IDF will not remain in the Gaza Strip for three weeks as it did during Operation Cast Lead. The military will seek to stay in the Gaza Strip for as short a time as possible, but will not leave before delivering a resounding blow to the terror organizations.

The move is expected to be carried out by armored vehicles under the aegis of accurate fire. The big question remains how to pull out of a ground operation in the most effective way. The IDF is generally known to excel in the opening gambit of its operations. However, the follow-up, and mainly the conclusion of every operation, are a different ballgame altogether. In this regard, the accomplishments of the IDF, but chiefly those of the political establishment, are historically wanting.

Here are some fundamental facts. Generally speaking, time is not on our side. After the stunning opening move — namely the assassination of Ahmed Jabari — the general direction could more or less be downward. It took Hamas a few hours to snap out of its shock, but yesterday's massive fire, which included Tel Aviv, was pretty much to be expected, as was the heavy price of the rocket fire. While this may not be encouraging, Hamas can use more surprising weaponry from its standpoint (including shore-to-sea missiles). It may even mount a terrorist attack far away from the Gaza Strip. As always, the world awards Israel a few days of grace to grapple with our predicament. Next week [Nov. 19] we should expect pressure from the United Nation's foreign affairs and security committee. Headlines about fatalities in Gaza will dominate TV screens the world over, and patience with Israel will wear thin. The IDF will feel that as well. And if that were not enough — every day that goes by could ratchet the pressure on the Egyptian government to inflict a historic injury to the strategic peace accord with Israel. 

But the following should also be borne in mind: Israel's qualitative and quantitative edge over Hamas is much greater. By comparison, it is much greater than the one between Russia and Georgia — the latter having been crushed by the former. This is a gap that Hamas will get a firsthand taste in the coming days, if it hasn't already. Does this mean that the political establishment has given the IDF clear objectives in order to take advantage of the military move or that attaining those objectives is in the pocket? Certainly not.

Found in: military, israel, idf, hamas, gaza, egypt, ahmed al-jabari

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