Israel has opted to launch a major attack on Hamas in Gaza. The idea appears to be to use heavy military force, primarily from the air, but with a limited objective: to weaken Hamas to a point where it returns to a ceasefire on conditions congenial to Israel.
|...neither Israel nor anyone else has a long-term workable strategy for dealing with Hamas in Gaza.|
The opening conditions are favorable from Israel's standpoint: it achieved tactical surprise in launching a Sabbath attack while much of the world is busy with Christmas and New Year celebrations. The United States is supportive and is in any case between administrations; PM Ehud Olmert's recent visit to Turkey gave Syria an incentive not to meddle; Egypt shares Israel's frustration with Hamas and seemingly--through the vehicle of FM Tzipi Livni's meeting with President Hosni Mubarak on the eve of the attack--gave its blessing. The Israeli political scene, both (Zionist) left and right, is supportive, to the extent of setting aside the current election campaign.
And at its worst? The attack on Gaza could, particularly if prolonged over weeks as Minister of Defense Barak threatens, inflame anti-Israeli and anti-western sentiments throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. Rioting could spread across the West Bank and among Palestinian citizens of Israel. Hizballah could open a second front in the north, and terrorists could attack anywhere. Hamas rockets will almost certainly continue to rain down in an expanding circle around Gaza (Israeli military planners, learning from the Second Lebanon War, have been careful to caution that this operation cannot stamp out the rocket fire militarily). Finally, Hamas could refuse to renew the ceasefire, despite its losses. The war in Gaza could become a major election issue in Israel. And it could end up as Barack Obama's first presidential crisis.
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