Is Israel Preparing a Gaza Ground Invasion?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 17 2012 11:34 AM

Is Israel Preparing a Gaza Ground Invasion?

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Israeli soldiers gather next to their armored personnel carriers stationed on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip

Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

As hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants enter a fourth day, the key question now is whether a ground invasion is imminent. Israel’s cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists, which as the Guardian notes, is several times larger than the number who were called up during the last major Gaza incursion in 2008. If the move was a way for Israel to increase pressure on Hamas to accept a truce, it doesn’t seem to be working as both sides escalated hostilities over the last 24 hours. On Saturday, some 30,000 troops were being mobilized along the Israel-Gaza border, according to Israeli officials cited by CNN.

Overnight, Israel went on a bombing spree in Gaza, carrying out 200 airstrikes, intensifying its targeting of sites apparently connected to the Hamas leadership, notes the Washington Post. The most significant strike destroyed the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Government offices along with smuggling tunnels were also targeted. The rockets into Israel are not easing, and, the Israeli military celebrated that its “Iron Dome” missile defense system shot down an incoming projectile that was heading to Tel Aviv, reports the Associated Press.

In all 41 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians, including eight children and a pregnant woman, have been killed since Wednesday, according to Gaza officials cited by Reuters. Three Israelis have been killed in that time.

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Although the scene, the arguments on each side, and the escalation of the conflict may all seem eerily familiar, the truth is that much has changed since late 2008, when Israel pursued its last military invasion into Gaza. And while some analysts outside Israel are pressuring the country to recognize that fact and pursue a different strategy with Hamas and the Palestinian issue in general, that all seems to be falling on deaf ears for now.

“What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances,” writes Ehtan Bronner in the New York Times. “In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.”

Whether there’s a ground invasion now or not, it seems clear that “another escalation, somewhere in the future, is all but inevitable,” writes Noam Sheizaf in +972, an Israeli online magazine. And that’s mainly because “the current Israeli government is characterized by its addiction to the status quo,” meaning that its policy with Gaza is to keep things exactly the same.

That’s part of the reason why a ground invasion would be useless, argues the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, who notes that the airstrikes against Hamas rocket sites are “understandable and defensible.” Even if a ground invasion manages to decimate Islamist groups threatening Israel it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t eventually be rebuilt. “And then what? Another Ground Invasion?”

Several analysts say it’s time to push Egypt into getting more involved. A ground invasion would surely draw Hamas and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi much closer together. Instead, Israel needs to try to make Morsi into a bigger player, “to start a massive shuttle diplomacy to rein in Hamas attacks,”as Meir Javedanfar writes in the Times of Israel. This could help Morsi not only prevent a conflict he surely would rather avoid, but also portray himself as a regional leader.

Things already seem to be at least partly moving in that direction. Arab foreign ministers are meeting Saturday to consider issuing a statement that would voice support for Egypt’s efforts to negotiate a truce, a diplomatic source tells Reuters.

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