Israel is being urged by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to do all it can to limit “collateral damage” resulting from its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. He urged the country to execute its new assault inside the Palestinian territories in a way that is “precise.” As he has before, Kerry maintained that Israel has the right to defend itself against threats, including those posed by tunnels into Israel. He expressed his view that the newly expanded operation should be “precise” to the targeting of tunnels.
Hamas walked away from a ceasefire that was supposed to begin on Tuesday, instead continuing to fire missiles at Israeli cities. Israel countered by putting a ground operation into motion yesterday. Israel’s stated intent now is to weaken Hamas, the militant group that has been in control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank since 2007.
Kerry spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone in the hours after Operation Protective Edge was expanded from solely an air war to include a ground assault. He reiterated the necessity to bring back the ceasefire that began in 2012 and to generally avoid further escalation. However, at almost every turn leading to the current conflict, the Palestinians and Israelis have chosen escalation.
For Hamas, its purpose appears to be to acquire leverage. The Palestinian territories have lived under what has effectively been a blockade of the area since 2007. The tolls created by the restrictions have been effective and Gaza is in desperate need of economic relief. Without tangible results, Hamas now appears at risk of looking ineffective. It is possible that Hamas is hoping that the mounting human costs of all-out war eventually leads to a mediated solution more to its liking.
Statements out of Israel have been clear that its main objective is to weaken Hamas, a group which does not acknowledge Israel’s legitimacy as a nation. Earlier this year, the deputy chairman of Hamas’ political wing, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, reiterated this stance, saying “Hamas will not recognize Israel” and that such a “red line” cannot be crossed.
Despite growing divisions within the country, many Israelis believe the airstrikes were but a start, that boots on the ground are required to achieve its goal of truly weakening Hamas. Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Friday to “prepare for the possibility of widening, significantly” the ground tactics that began Thursday evening.
Even with its intent to wreck the military infrastructure of Hamas, IDF and Israeli political officials have no desire to occupy Gaza, forecasting enormous problems that would spin from that. Indeed, Israel also has no interest in toppling the Hamas power structure in the Gaza Strip, believing a gap in power would likely result in dozens of other militant groups fighting each other for control.
For its part, peace broker Egypt may indeed desire de-escalation but, like Israel and the United States, it shares a disdain for Hamas – those countries and others officially categorize Hamas as a terrorist organization. During its attempts to broker a cease-fire, Cairo was less sympathetic to Hamas’ positions than those of Israel. The previous status quo, a so-called “quiet for quiet,” does not seem likely. Peace will not happen in the Gaza Strip without an authentic desire on both sides and, at this moment, that seems unlikely.
Opinion by Gregory Baskin