Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under attack for his perceived inaction on the Gaza front with some saying that he is more concerned with election polling calculations. Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip again attacked Israel, this time firing three rockets into the southern city of Sderot over the weekend, with two of them being intercepted by the Iron Dome air-defense system.
Some Israelis are calling for a military ground invasion into Gaza to damage, or even eradicate, Hamas. The question many are asking: Does Israel have the ability to do so, and if so, why hasn’t it taken that course of action?
According to Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, the government is certainly capable of conducting a large-scale operation. “The issue is not capabilities, but political will,” he told JNS.
“The political calculations are complicated,” he added. “It is possible to argue that a demonstration of determination can be helpful to Netanyahu in the elections.”
But does Netanyahu have the political will? According to what he told the media ahead of his flight to Kiev this week—the first in 20 years for an Israeli prime minister—it would seem he does. He said, “If it is required, we will embark on a large campaign with considerations to the elections—with elections or without elections.”
Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was among those who voiced their frustration with the prime minister. “He is an excellent presenter but a weak leader who lacks leadership and is incapable of making decisions in times of crisis,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
Blue and White chairman and former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said “the deterrence hasn’t been eroded, it’s been erased.”
Former Education Minister and now Yamina Party member Naftali Bennett called for more drastic action. He said, “We need to move on to a policy of persistent attacks, chasing after the terror leaders. They have to start fearing for their lives.”
Inbar seems to disagree with Bennett. He said Netanyahu “is not trigger-happy, which is commendable.”
Inbar also said that going for a victory over Hamas “is naive.”
“We should remember that we cannot eradicate a well-rooted Hamas,” he said. Israel should “debilitate Hamas’s military capabilities,” he insisted, but admitted that the terror group would rebuild as soon as Israel leaves.
“It is a long, repetitive struggle,” said Inbar. He believes that Israel’s ability to conduct a war of attrition “shows our strength.”
‘The more Machiavellian explanation’
Yoram Schweitzer, a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) and head of its program on terrorism and low-intensity conflict, told JNS that Israel’s current policy is that of containment. “Israel is capable of harming Hamas in a much more harsh way. There is no question,” he said.
However, he emphasized that “we are trying to work with mediators to try and calm the situation, and not allow it to get out of hand. … Hamas understands Israel’s limitations and is provoking Israel accordingly.”
Schweitzer offered that the shorter explanation for Israel’s decision to adopt a containment strategy “is Israel’s reluctance to enter at this stage into a more comprehensive conflict.”
“The broader perspective,” he said, “may be that Israel wishes to maintain the conflict with Hamas on a low level, but uses it in order to prevent any Hamas/Palestinian Authority cooperation or any resumption of peace talks with the P.A.”
Schweitzer believes that Netanyahu is trying “to hold the rope on both sides.” He said the prime minister doesn’t want to allow for resumption of talks with the current P.A. government and would like to prevent Hamas from doing too much harm. “That is the more Machiavellian explanation,” he quipped.
A question often asked by experts and the Israeli public alike is whether or not Israel should maintain the status quo.
According to Schweitzer, an Israeli ground operation has “all kinds of components.”
He said that “Israel would like to conduct the first operation in order to harm the Hamas leadership in a way that would be effective. This requires a much more aggressive and surprising attack.”
Schweitzer thinks that the basic question if Israel does indeed launch a ground operation is whether it can achieve its military goals in Gaza without having to spend more than a short time there.
“This is not an easy dilemma,” he acknowledged. “The solution is not optimal, but this is a dilemma that any government would have.”
Still, the question lingers: Will Israel launch a ground operation in Gaza? According to Inbar, “It is inevitable.”