Despite apparent support for boots on the ground doubts remain
Standing in a well-furnished bomb-shelter in the southern town of Sderot, former deputy Israeli army chief-of-staff Uzi Dayan says that a large-scale ground invasion of the Gaza Strip is the only way to ensure that Israel completes its mission of ending rocket fire once and for all while striking a heavy blow to the Islamist Hamas movement.
“We should not only attack Hamas’s facilities and infrastructure, but we must dismantle Hamas as an organization,” Dayan told a group of visiting journalists. “(Hamas leader) Ismail Haniyyeh will no longer be the ruler of Gaza.”
In fact, Haniyyeh is no longer the official rule of the Gaza Strip since Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took over that role when he became the head of a new unity government last month that is supposed to pave the way for Palestinian elections. While that government has not been officially dismantled, it seems unlikely that it will be able to continue given the current fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, but has maintained control over the entry and exit from the coastal enclave, except for the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Some Israeli analysts have said that the main reason that Hamas initiated the current conflict with Israel by stepping up rocket fire is to force a new cease-fire which would include the re-opening of the Rafah crossing point.
In Israel, 48,000 reserve soldiers have been called up, and many of them are waiting on their side of the border for the political echelon to signal the start of a ground invasion of Gaza. A small force of Israeli marines made their first limited incursion on Sunday on a mission that destroyed a facility housing some of Hamas’s longer-range missiles. Four commandos were slightly wounded in the action.
Dayan said a significant ground operation would require two divisions, meaning 16,000 soldiers, and that the army should be prepared to stay in Gaza as long as needed in order to neutralize Hamas’s ability to produce rockets.
“I’m not saying we have to take over every street and alleyway in Gaza,” Dayan told The Media Line. “But there are areas that if we control them, we can put pressure on Hamas. If we don’t do that, they will continue to fire rockets.”
In the past week since Operation Protective Edge began, Hamas has fired at least 800 rockets at Israel including dozens aimed at central Israel. There has been only one death on the Israeli side: an elderly woman who suffered a heart attack while running to a bomb shelter. In Gaza, thought, at least 165 people have died and more than 1,200 have been wounded.
Uzi Dayan, who is the nephew of the famed Israeli military hero Moshe Dayan, said that terror organizations have an advantage in that they can win a conflict “just by surviving.” In order for Israel to win, he said, Israel must change the rules of the game so that Hamas no longer has the ability to fire on Israel.
Not all military strategists agree. Some argue that a ground operation also has disadvantages, including more casualties on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. Retired General Shlomo Brom of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) says the cost of sending ground troops in outweighs the benefits.
“A ground invasion is justified if there are clear military objectives connected to a strategy to end this conflict,” Brom told The Media Line. “If we wanted to cause real damage to Hamas, it would be quite a widespread ground invasion which would mean taking control of a large part of Gaza and searching for rocket storage areas, sites and tunnels.”
In its media, Hamas has said it wants to capture more Israeli soldiers like it did when it took Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held him captive for five years. Shalit was eventually freed in exchange for 1,027 Hamas prisoners released from Israeli jails. One of Hamas’s conditions for a cease-fire now is that Israel release all of those who have been re-arrested for security-related issues during the past few weeks.
Brom says it is almost impossible to control the collateral damage from the air strikes among Gaza’s 1.8 million people and there will be heavy civilian casualties, which will provoke international criticism.
“We will be pulled into reoccupying Gaza and that is not in our interest,” Brom warned. It would mean, among other things, that Israel would once again be responsible for the economy of the Gaza Strip, where unemployment stands at 40 percent, and half of the population is below the age of eighteen.