Israel has said the aim of the past three days of intense bombing in Gaza is to stop rockets being fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israeli towns. To reduce the rocket fire, Israeli military analysts argue, is a modest goal. However, even within Israel there remain sharp differences of opinion about how to achieve that.
The rockets have claimed fewer than 20 lives in the past eight years, but have become an increasingly serious problem for the Israeli government.
Most believe the latest conflict will eventually end with a new lull in the fighting, or at best another short-term ceasefire.
Although Israel has put in place some preparations for a ground invasion, including preparing a call-up of reserves and deploying tanks near the Gaza border, that is still not seen as an inevitable step.
Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general and a military analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, said the point of the conflict was for Israel to exact the best conditions for a ceasefire with Hamas.
“The military operation is changing the dynamic, making it clear to Hamas that it is going to pay a very high cost for violations of the ceasefire,” Brom said. “I think Hamas deluded itself by thinking Israel is kind of paralyzed because of its political system or the possible reaction of its population to some suffering.”
Both Hamas and some Israeli leaders have said they are not willing to return to a ceasefire deal.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Fox News on Saturday when the bombing began: “For us to be asked to have a ceasefire with Hamas is like asking you [the US] to have a ceasefire with al-Qaeda.”
The reality is that a new ceasefire is probably the best Israel could hope to achieve.
As Alex Fishman, a columnist in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, put it on Monday: “The answer to the question of what we want is simple: To stop the fire. In order to stop the fire, we have to reach an arrangement, and in order to persuade Hamas to reach an arrangement, we are now breaking its bones — among other reasons, so that the price it demands will not be high. But we have not yet decided, amongst ourselves, what price we are willing to pay.”
Yet there are others who raise broader questions about Israel’s policy towards Gaza.
Yossi Alpher, a former official at Mossad and a military commentator, said Israel was seeking a ceasefire on more acceptable terms. But he was critical of the tough economic blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip in recent years, limiting imports to humanitarian supplies and preventing all exports, which has all but wiped out private industry and brought Gaza’s economy to collapse.
“The economic siege of Gaza has not produced any of the desired political results,” he said. “It has not manipulated Palestinians into hating Hamas.”
He said that Israel would have to choose either to recognize that Hamas was around to stay and to talk to the movement or to fully reoccupy the Gaza Strip, topple Hamas and bear the costs involved.
Tom Segev, one of Israel’s most respected historians, said the premise of bombing to secure a peace agreement was false.
“Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over,” Segev wrote in Monday’s Ha’aretz newspaper. “Since the dawn of the Zionist presence in the land of Israel, no military operation has ever advanced dialogue with the Palestinians.”