As the IDF grapples with Hamas’s underground infrastructure, terror tunnels and rocket attacks, Israelis are gradually internalizing the extent of the Gaza Islamist regime’s preparation for this conflict, and the cynicism of its strategy.
Two weeks into this conflict, and despite the immense scale of the Israeli Air Force’s strikes at Hamas targets, about 100 rockets a day are still being fired at Israel, and the ground offensive is proving anything but straightforward, with Hamas demonstrably capable of inflicting significant casualties and drawing the IDF ever-deeper into Gaza.
If this is increasingly dismaying for Israeli citizens, Hamas’s strategies come as no surprise to the Israeli army or political leadership. For months, military chiefs have been warning about both the expanded Hamas rocket threat, and the fortified “underground Gaza” that was being constructed. This writer wrote five months ago — and I certainly wasn’t among the first to know — about the Gaza workshops producing M-75 rockets that would be directed at Tel Aviv next time, about the cross-border tunnels, and about Hamas’s underground network inside the Strip which it would use to target Israeli land forces, to move its gunmen undetected from place to place during warfare, to house its command and communication facilities, and to protect its leadership.
Being forewarned, however, has not made the challenge any less complex. As the IDF casualty figures rise, and Hamas as of Sunday can both brag about killing Israelis and disseminate terrible footage and images of Palestinian civilian casualties in the Gaza residential areas from which it so cynically operates, that challenge to Israel’s strategists is acute.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stated goal for this conflict was to attain sustained security and calm for the people of Israel — an essential goal, indeed. But Hamas has no interest in giving Israel any such thing. Its overall stated objective remains the destruction of the State of Israel. Its interim objective is ensuring that its rule in Gaza is maintained and flourishes, at maximal pain to Israel, and no matter what the cost to Gazans. As the deputy head of its political bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk told Mahmoud Abbas last week in Cairo, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?” — a reference to the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade that had so weakened the Gaza economy and thus so harmed Hamas’s standing in Gaza before this round of conflict erupted.
As Israel’s losses mount in Gaza, its disinclination to send troops into the death traps Hamas has prepared seems likely to result in more scenes such as those in Shejaiya on Sunday morning — with Gaza civilians terribly, fatally, caught between Israel’s imperative to tackle Hamas and Hamas’s cynical use of Gazans to protect it.
The notion that such deaths in Gaza might cause Hamas to seek a ceasefire seems extremely far-fetched. “What are 200 martyrs…?” asked Abu Marzouk.
Hence the significance of Tzipi Livni’s refusal, in a Friday night TV interview, to rule out the possibility of this conflict expanding to the point where Israel seeks to bring down Hamas altogether. Her Channel 2 interviewers almost fell off their chairs when the most dovish member of the Israeli security cabinet said she wasn’t ruling out that or any other option.
When Hamas is gloating at the deaths of soldiers, the challenge posed by its terror tunnels, and the disruption its rockets are causing, when it is drawing Israel ever-deeper into Gaza and blackening Israel’s image in the process, and when its will and capability to kill Israelis remains potent, she and the rest of the Israeli leadership can hardly dismiss the idea of Israel having to expand this operation into a full-scale invasion to oust the Hamas regime. Which is where we may now be headed.