Israel was to begin cutting back electricity to the Gaza Strip late this week in addition to reducing fuel and food shipments in an effort to pressure the Hamas government there to end rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. But there was a growing belief that a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza might be the only effective way to end the attacks.
“It seems to me to be only a matter of time,” said Yitzhak Reiter of the Harry S Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
And Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, pointed out that the recently released Winograd report on Israel’s handling of the war with Hezbollah in 2006 criticized the government for allowing Hezbollah to bring so many missiles into Lebanon.
“The longer we wait [before taking action] in Gaza, the costlier it will be,” he said. “The odds are 50-50 that there will be a full-scale retaking of Gaza, despite all the difficulties. You can’t wait forever to put an end to the Hamas rocket attacks, which are getting worse and worse.”
On Tuesday, 12 Kassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at the southern town of Sderot and the western Negev communities. A 14-year-old girl was moderately injured by shrapnel and three other people suffered smoke inhalation when their home took a direct hit from a rocket. Three more rockets later fired at southern Ashkelon landed harmlessly. More rockets were fired again on Wednesday.
In response, Israeli air strikes killed at least nine terrorists and injured four others.
Reiter noted that an Israeli task force is assessing the possibility of stationing international peacekeepers in Gaza after its recapture — a sign such an operation is being seriously considered. But many analysts don’t believe it will happen.
“What country would like to risk its troops in what is looking like a trap?” Reiter asked, noting the reluctance of other countries to become involved.
Steinberg said Israel must consider how Egypt would react to an Israeli invasion of Gaza.
“Will Egypt feel it is being pushed into a confrontational situation?” Steinberg asked. “I believe they will talk a tough act but not be upset by it.”
Not everyone supports invasion, though.
“If Israel destroys the Hamas infrastructure, it will have to stay there or turn over Gaza to Abbas,” said Aaron Miller, a former advisor to six American secretaries of state. “But it’s hard to imagine Abbas riding into Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank. That won’t do much for his credibility.”
Miller insisted that only a Palestinian unity government because would have “the power and credibility to give the Israelis the one thing they need — security. A divided Palestinian house means insecurity in perpetuity. If Israelis could cure that by destroying Hamas and giving Gaza to Abbas, they would. But they know they can’t …[because] an Israeli reoccupation would only inflame the Palestinians.”
And Stephen P. Cohen, a national scholar of the Israel Policy Forum, questioned whether the Israeli government is strong enough politically to carry out its policies.
“We don’t have a government that can make a decision that will stick with the majority of the people,” he said. “So decisions can’t be carried out for a long period of time. … Some people say Israel needs a more aggressive strategy. Others say it needs to get Arabs to talk to Hamas. And others say Israel has to strengthen [Abbas] by opening some of the roadblocks and giving him more financial aid. But I don’t think that any one of these can be supported by the people long enough and effectively enough to be carried out.”
Reiter noted that although the Egyptian-Gaza border was closed 12 days after Hamas blew it up Jan. 23, it has not been sealed. Weapons and people continue to be smuggled across the border, he said.