Time to clear out Gaza terror once and for all, say some on right
Cast Lead II?

Time to clear out Gaza terror once and for all, say some on right

But opposition warns against escalation and government rules out ground offensive, for now

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

An infantry soldier on the Israel-Gaza border at the height of Operation Cast Lead, Jan 6 2009. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
An infantry soldier on the Israel-Gaza border at the height of Operation Cast Lead, Jan 6 2009. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Several politicians and professors are calling for the government to expand the current military strikes against targets in Gaza, with some demanding the IDF “clean” the strip of terrorist infrastructure — despite declarations from leaders that they do not seek further escalation of the conflict.

On the fourth day of violence between Gaza terrorists and the Israeli military, the government in Jerusalem stated that it wanted to restore calm. But prominent Israelis from several sectors of society are increasingly advocating a reprise of Operation Cast Lead, a three-week campaign in late 2008 and early 2009 that included a ground invasion into Gaza that left 13 Israelis and more than 1,000 Palestinians dead.

“This might be a good time to ‘clean’ Gaza of its terrorist infrastructure. In fact, this should have been done a long time ago,” said Efraim Inbar, the director of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Inbar said he supported a full-fledged ground invasion of Gaza, which he said was ultimately inevitable. “An ‘Operation Cast Lead II’ could have its own merits,” he told The Times of Israel. While Israel will neither be able to topple Hamas, which rules the strip, nor prevent terrorists from smuggling weapons and rockets from Egypt, he said, Jerusalem should aim to deliver “a terrible blow” to Hamas’s capabilities to rain missiles on Israel.

Weakening Hamas to the extent that it can no longer harm Israel would also be in Israel’s strategic interest if Jerusalem decided to attack Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, Inbar said. “If we want to go after Iran, we had better remove any threat from the country’s proxies on Israel’s borders,” he said.

Former IDF Southern Command head Yom-Tov Samia also seemed to suggest that, since a million Israelis are being forced to seek shelter as rockets continue to fall on the country’s south, the army might be forced to consider an expanded ground operation.

“If, once in a while, we need to do an Operation Cast Lead, or any other operation — however similar or not similar to Cast Lead — in order to protect our civilians, so be it. This is the role of the IDF,” Samia told The Times of Israel.

There are also voices within Israel’s governing coalition encouraging the IDF to intensify its current strikes.

‘Yes, when there are terrorists, you have to cut off their hands. But we cannot get into situations where, out of miscalculations, the Middle East will go up in flames’

“We must treat every missile that falls in southern Israel as if it hit the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv and react accordingly,” said Deputy Knesset Speaker Danny Danon, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. “We must not shy away from any military means to ensure that Israelis throughout the country can return to their daily lives,” he said.

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Danon stopped short of explicitly calling for a ground invasion of Gaza at this point, yet he emphasized that such a step would become unavoidable in the near future.

“Eventually we will have to launch a military operation to root out the Hamas regime,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen now, it will happen in a few months, because we know it’s only a matter of time until the next round of violence starts.”

“I hope they will decide today to destroy Gaza if the shooting doesn’t stop. Let them suffer, too,” media personality Judy Mozes, the wife of Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, said in a Twitter message on Sunday. “We have to blow up Gaza. We’d be happy for the children to be evacuated,” she added on Monday.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/JudyMozes/status/178711381040824320″]

Sources within the Foreign Ministry said Israel was not currently interested in escalating the situation, but that a thorough ground operation might be necessary at a later stage. “At this point no one is talking about a ground invasion, but it is not being ruled out for the future,” a ministry source said, adding that the toppling of Hamas was part of the coalition agreement signed between Likud and Yisrael Beitenu.

Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Habayit Hayehudi) also stated that Israel was determined to protect its citizens and was willing to take offensive action if need be. Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, too, spoke of the possibility of a ground invasion. However, both Ya’alon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak asserted that Israel was not interested in escalating the current cycle of violence and would be willing to restore calm if the rocket attacks from Gaza stopped.

MK Avishay Braverman (Labor), on the other hand, warned that any further escalation of the conflict could set the entire region ablaze.

“The world today is a very unstable place,” the former minister told The Times of Israel on Monday. “Yes, when there are terrorists, you have to cut off their hands. But we cannot get into situations where, out of miscalculations, the Middle East will go up in flames, with severe ramifications for the stability of Israel and the world. When you lead a country and you look at the tremendous instability that takes place in the Middle East and the world, you have to act wisely.”

Israel has enough diplomatic channels, including with Egypt, to be able to enact a ceasefire and reestablish calm without further conflagration, Braverman added.

Concerns about Egypt are indeed one of the major reasons Israel is not considering intensifying its military actions in Gaza, said Aviad Rubin, a political scientist from Haifa University. Since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year, bilateral relations have been fragile and Jerusalem needs to safeguard its strategic peace treaty with Cairo, he said.

“The Egyptian public is very much influenced by what’s going on in Gaza, and it is most likely that a very assertive military operation in Gaza would generate some political mobilization in Egypt,” Rubin said. Egypt is in the middle of a presidential election campaign and, “naturally, the candidates are very sensitive to the street.”

While the leaders in Cairo might not go as far as canceling the peace treaty with Israel if another ground war with Gaza erupted, they could take other harmful steps, such as joining forces with other Arab nations to have the United Nations pass anti-Israel resolutions or pressure the US to compel Israel to cease fire, and so on, Rubin added.

‘If the current policy isn’t effective enough, then a ground campaign might be the only option’

Lt. Col. (res.) David Benjamin, a former senior IDF legal adviser, said that a large-scale ground operation in Gaza would only be worthwhile if it aimed at removing Hamas, which would require a lot of time and effort — it it was even possible.

“It’s difficult to completely root out a terrorist group like Hamas, because it’s an organization driven by ideology,” Benjamin said. “It’s not just a physical and military presence, there’s an ideology behind it that propagates itself. It’s a monster that if you chop off one head, it grows back another one or two heads.”

However, it is possible that Israel will see no alternative to a ground war if the constant rocket fire from Gaza doesn’t stop, he said. “We might be left with no other choice, because there are not too many options. If the current policy isn’t effective enough, then a ground campaign might be the only option. But I don’t think it’s a good option. The solution we have at the moment is, to my mind, the best defense: a combination of an active defense — in other words, missile interceptions — combined with pinpoint strikes at terrorist targets.”

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