Israel’s next move: ground invasion of Gaza?

An Israeli soldier stands atop a mobile artillery unit stationed near the border with the Gaza Strip July 9, 2014.

An Israeli soldier stands atop a mobile artillery unit stationed near the border with the Gaza Strip July 9, 2014.

Since the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Protective Edge during overnight hours on Monday, at least 48 Palestinians have been killed – including several senior Hamas and Palestinian
Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants as well as an 8 year-old child and an 80-year-old civilian; meanwhile, Hamas and other Gaza-based militants have indiscriminately fired at least 225 rockets at civilian populations targeting most of Israel’s major cities including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beersheva, without causing deaths.

At least 40 of these rockets were intercepted and destroyed by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

The first major Israel-Hamas flare up since the eight-day-war in November 2012 shows little signs of de-escalating in the near term. In the first 48-hours, the intensity of Israel’s operation has already proven far greater than the last with the IDF confirming over 500 targets have been hit.

While at the same time, Hamas has already demonstrated an unprecedented capability to hit Israel’s northern cities, with at least one rocket striking Hof HaCarmel, located just south of the major city of Haifa and a total of approximately 145 kilometers away from the Strip.

Moreover, according to security reports, militant factions in Gaza are now in possession of double the amount of rockets they had during the 2012 war – one factor alone that significantly increases the likelihood for a much broader conflict with Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly indicated the IDF would expand the operation, asking Israelis to “display patience, because this operation could take time.”

While in the coming days Israel will continue and likely step up its airborne assault on positions in the Strip, a ground incursion in the near term cannot be ruled out.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Daniel Nisman, President of Levantine Group, a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Tel Aviv, noted preparations for a ground offensive were already likely underway and that the longer Hamas fails to stop firing rockets, the greater the likelihood for a ground incursion becomes, perhaps even as soon as within “the next 1-2 weeks,” Nisman said.

He further noted that, “This would be a much larger ground offensive than Hamas is anticipating,” and that the operation, “would first aim to cut the Gaza Strip into different sections, then take control of peripheral areas which are used to launch short and medium range rockets.”

Former IDF officer Dror Markus echoed this analysis, in a separate interview, indicating that if Hamas fulfills its goals of inflicting casualties on Israeli civilians, “Netanyahu will be left with no choice other than a limited ground military incursion.”

That said, Markus also pointed out what he indicated were “interesting patterns with the rocket fire” with “heavy, simultaneous barrages trying to test the Iron dome system [but with] more focus on shooting rockets at Tel Aviv and the center than [at] Beersheva.”

He noted that this pattern could signify a subtle message that Hamas is unwilling to do something that would immediately guarantee a ground invasion such as launching a massive volley of rockets at the southern cities of Sderot or Beersheva – which would be more likely to cause injuries or casualties than firing a limited amount of rockets at center cities like Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, domestically, tensions between Israelis and Palestinians continue skyrocketing over the grotesque revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager at the hands of radical Israelis.

A ground incursion in the Gaza strip could further exacerbate the unrest, likely triggering riots in East Jerusalem and across Arab-Israeli towns. That said, whether or not a third intifada is indeed imminent, according to Nisman, remains unlikely at the moment. “Palestinian Authority media outlets in the West Bank are not showing sympathy for Hamas,” he noted.

This is an important point; while the embryonic Fatah-Hamas unity government spirals once again into nothingness, Hamas could align itself – politically – with other fringe factions in the Gaza Strip as it has now done once again, militarily.

 
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