Israel’s decision to launch a land offensive seemed as unavoidable as it was risky: to not act would signal acceptance of Hamas’ rule of Gaza, but moving in could result in stalemate. “Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza and to bring about a significant change in the situation in the southern part of Israel,” said Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The goal for Israel is to use its military superiority to achieve a number of long-term goals, starting with weakening Hamas and detering future attacks. It also wants to implement new security arrangements on the border between Egypt and Gaza, and ensure no formal ceasefire is put in place, giving it freedom to act if it judges necessary. However, the military operation against Hamas must be short-lived to avoid too many civilian casualties among the Palestinians. For now, the international community has held back, for several reasons, according to the head of the London-based think tank the Transatlantic Institute, “The regional game being played in the Gaza Strip and the current conflict, of course, there is the hand of Iran and its allies,” said Emanuele Ottolenghi. “And in this sense it is very telling that the Arab leadership of moderate countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, has refrained from matching a rhetoric of condemnation of the current events and the loss of civilian life with political steps to thwart Israel’s attempts.” In 2002, the Israeli army carried out a similar offensive in the West Bank camps of Jenin and Nablus, with relative success. However, this time round, the upcoming elections were an added motive according to the Palestinian envoy to the EU, who argues the offensive is crucial for the defense minister and his Labour Party: “I really think this illustrates Mister Barak’s comeback,” says Leila Shahid. “His first aim is to cleanse the Israeli army’s honour following the 2006 war with Lebanon, especially after the Vinograd report, and second he wants to boost his ratings ahead of February’s election, and sadly you can see that he has grown in popularity since the launch of the Gaza offensive.” But for how long? The defense minister’s plan is subject to one condition: not to leave the troops in the Gaza Strip for too long as heavy losses among soldiers would not be popular with voters.