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Friday, July 18, 2014

Will Israel Widen The War And Will Hamas Run Out of Rockets?

Israeli soldiers take cover during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at the entrance of Israeli-run Ofer prison in the West Bank village of Betunia, on July 18, following a protest against Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of bolstering his ground assault on Gaza in what commentators said was part of a strategy to pressure Hamas into a truce. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli soldiers take cover during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at the entrance of Israeli-run Ofer prison in the West Bank village of Betunia, on July 18, following a protest against Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of bolstering his ground assault on Gaza in what commentators said was part of a strategy to pressure Hamas into a truce. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel says it’s considering a “significantly wider” ground operation. What will drive that decision? What are the strategic calculations Hamas is making and how will it emerge from this conflict?

Journalist Neri Zilber joined Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti to discuss Israel’s next move.

Ziber says he doesn’t think Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really wants to see an expansion of the ground campaign, thus his currently limited list of objectives: targeting tunnels along the border, rocket production and firing locales, and longer range rockets themselves.

“Despite the rhetoric,” he said, “at this point in time the objectives of the military ground campaign are actually quite limited.”

However, he maintains that Hamas has the opportunity to do real damage to these forces on the ground.

As Ziber explained, “I think they can make life very difficult for Israeli forces moving into Gaza at the moment: ambushes, very much kind of urban guerilla warfare, take out Israeli soldiers. Bigger picture, they can keep firing rockets on Israeli population centers to keep the political pressure on Israel.”

Interview Highlights

On what has caused this particular round in the conflict

“It is a very complex story, as it is normally in the Middle East and in Israel and Palestine. I will say that this round is actually quite different than previous rounds of fighting in the sense that it was very much Hamas’ decision to escalate. The operation conducted by the Israelis in the West Bank last month came as a response to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. There are rocket firings from Gaza — I mean, it’s been happening for many years, but there was actually an escalation over the past few months. The difference two weeks ago was that Hamas actually took the decision to join in with other militant groups in Gaza and begin firing. That’s what precipitated this recent escalation and it’s very much, I believe, Hamas’ decision and in particular the Hamas military wing’s decision to end this fighting.”

On possibilities for the future

“The Israelis and the Israeli government and the prime minister have been clear from the beginning of this recent round of fighting that they would be willing to return to the agreements and the understandings that were in place prior to the escalation — very much a quiet-for-quiet understanding between Israel and Hamas. An expansion of the ground operation would likely come about for two reasons: one, rocket fire from Hamas continuing, and second, a disagreement or a non-commitment by Hamas to come to some kind of terms for a cease-fire, which at this point is attempting to be mediated by Egypt in Cairo.”

On the risks behind the ground operation

“The risks are actually quite high, not only to its own ground forces going into Gaza, but internationally. Ground campaign is actually a lot more unpredictable and could get a lot messier than the target air strikes we’ve seen over the past 10 days. You very much have to tread lightly, especially on the ground in Gaza.”

Guest

  • Neri Zilber, journalist and researcher on Middle East politics and culture and a visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He tweets @NeriZilber.

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