So, Israel has begun a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip. In response to Hamas’s unrelenting rocket attacks on the city of Serdot and other southern Israeli towns, the IDF (after Hamas renounced the cease fire) began a series of air attacks on Hamas infrastructure and leadership targets. Now, IDF ground forces have begun operations in Gaza.
The IDF’s plan is almost routine: cordon the strip into three sections, preventing the flow of Hamas arms and men along the main north/south routes in Gaza; penetrate into those areas, searching for arms caches and high value leadership targets (and using the intel gained to further generate airstrikes and more targets for ground raids); and run to ground the Hamas units firing rockets into Israel.
The souther border of Gaza abuts Egypt, who have their own issues with Hamas. Other than that, Israel can pretty much isolate Gaza and deny them freedom of movement. The problem is, almost the whole of the Gaza Strip is urban territory, and urban terrain takes enormous numbers of troops to fully control. The Israelis just don’t have that many troops. Nor do they want to get involved with a lengthy occupation of the strip, both because it is expensive in terms of money, and eventually, in terms of casualties. So Israel can be expected to try to inflict as much damage on Hamas as possible without getting bogged down.
There a likely a couple of reasons why the offensive has come at this time. First, the cease fire (which basically meant that Israel wasn’t shooting, and Hamas wasn’t shooting as much as usual) ended recently. Second, there’s the domestic political situation. Israel has elections coming up. I wouldn’t say it is a case of “wag the dog” but the government is facing a great deal of domestic pressure to do something about the rocket attacks. Finally, Israel probably senses that in incoming Obama administration may not support these types of operations, so they figure now is the last chance to do this. Whether the Obama administration would act to prevent the Israelis from acting or not? I don’t know, but Israel seems to feel it is a chance they cannot take.
A word on disproportionate response…
Anytime Israel undertakes any military operations, there are folks out there that immediately scream “WAR CRIMES!!” and condemn Israel. Of course, the first thing the newspapers mention is the disparity in the numbers of casualties in Gaza versus Israelis killed by rockets. Eric Posner at The Volokh Conspiracy has some thoughts on that.
Indeed, Hama’s goal in firing rockets was in large part an attempt to provoke a response from Israel. Hamas exists solely to bring about the destruction of Israel. If they are not seen by the Palestineans as fighting Israel, what little support they have will evaporate.
Further, Israel has taken a number of steps to mitigate civilian casualties. For instance, when they have targeted a building for an airstrike, they phone the building and warn people to leave! A large part of the reason Palestinean casualties have been so heavy in this conflict is because Hamas has burrowed itself into the cities like a tick, surrounded by the civilian population. Almost any attack is bound to generate collateral damage.
And what would a post on the IDF be without this: