The Gaza Ground Assault Rages — But Will it Work?
"By occupying the Gaza Strip, Israel would trade approximately 45 miles of hostile border for eight. Configured as it is, the strip serves as a salient for introduction of Arab subversion and terrorism, and its retention would be to Israel's military advantage."
Those words were written in June 1967, soon after the Six Day War, as part of the Joint Chief of Staffs' study on what lands Israel needed to retain to be defensible. It took until the summer of 2005 for Israel to try withdrawing militarily from Gaza and see if it would work.
On Saturday night, three and a half years and 6500 rockets and mortars later, a large Israeli force finally reentered the Strip to try and remove what has become a 24/7 threat of being suddenly blown to pieces hanging over the lives of 800,000 Israeli civilians.
Many had said that, once Israel withdrew from Gaza, it would be in a superior military and moral position -- with international understanding -- to strike back hard from the air if terrorists in Gaza still dared to fire projectiles. Over the past week Israel has finally tried that approach. Israelis wanted it to work; a poll found a clear majority supporting the air campaign but only 20% saying they favored a ground operation likely to cost soldiers' lives.
The air campaign, the result of months of careful planning and involving thousands of sorties, has indeed given Hamas a drubbing with command and control centers, rocket silos, smuggling tunnels, and top leaders being hit. The trouble is that it hasn't stopped the rocket fire; the Hamas that was supposed to say "This is awful, we better stop" turned out to have been imaginary. Instead the rocket fire has only expanded to include even the major southern city of Beersheba, with fears that it could reach 20 miles further east to Israel's top-secret nuclear plant in the town of Dimona.
Despite the widespread hope of avoiding a ground operation, morale remained high as the government finally, reluctantly announced on Saturday evening its decision to order an invasion of Gaza, and as the first casualty reports -- 30 soldiers wounded, two of them seriously -- came in. In addition to the thousands of soldiers already in Gaza or at its border, Defense Minister Ehud Barak got a green light for a mass call-up of reservists -- generally ordinary citizens in the midst of studies, work, or both -- that could reach tens of thousands.