The Many Dilemmas of Confronting Hamas

Israel's high-value air strikes against Hamas continued Friday morning as the IAF hit 20 targets including a mosque in the Jebaliya refugee camp that served many functions other than worship: a storehouse for Grad and Qassam rockets, a meeting place for operatives, and a control center for terror attacks. On Thursday an Israeli warplane killed top Hamas leader Nizar Rayan, responsible among other things for a 2004 suicide bombing in the port of Ashdod that killed 10 Israelis, and apparently among the few Hamas chiefs who hadn't already taken shelter in an underground bunker.

Despite the drubbing, though, that Hamas has taken from the IAF since last Saturday, it was also clear on Friday morning that it was still far from discouraged or deterred, as the terror organization fired 10 rockets at southern Israel that wounded two Israelis in Ashkelon (another port slightly south of Ashdod) and one in the much-battered, Gaza-bordering town of Sderot. In the preceding days Hamas had been widening the scope of its rocket attacks to strike unprecedented targets like the major southern city of Beersheba and the town of Yavne on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

And although Yuval Diskin, head of Israel's General Security Service, told the security cabinet on Wednesday that Hamas had been dealt a "serious blow," almost all of its fighting force and the majority of its rockets are still intact -- along with the dense tunnel network, antitank weapons, and explosive-laden traps it has been amassing against a possible Israeli ground incursion.

The issue of whether Israel will mount such an incursion, and with what goals, has taken center stage as the number of aerial targets diminishes and the early shock value of Operation Cast Lead wears off. Those of us concerned about the resolve of the triumvirate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, especially in the face of the mounting international pressures for a ceasefire, have a hard time being optimistic.