Israel: Pros and Cons of an All-Out Invasion
FACTBOX-Israel's options on the Gaza Strip
11 Jun 2008 11:58:45 GMT
11 Jun 2008 11:58:45 GMT
June 11 (Reuters) - Israel on Wednesday backed efforts by Egypt to reach a truce in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip but instructed the army to prepare for possible military action if mediation fails.
One year after Hamas Islamists seized control of Gaza, Israeli leaders face pressure to take tougher action against militants who fire rockets into Israel.
Here are some of the choices they face:
-- The best-equipped army in the Middle East, with total control of the air, could overwhelm Hamas guerrillas and their allies, who may number around 35,000.
-- It might quiet critics who demand action after rockets killed three Israelis near the border so far this year and longer-range Katyushas hit the nearby city of Ashkelon.
-- An offensive could shore up domestic support for Olmert, who is embroiled in a corruption scandal that could topple him and possibly his government, scuttling Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Olmert says he will resign if indicted.
-- Despite massive superiority in firepower, taking and holding the urban jungle of Gaza's refugee camps would certainly cost Israeli lives, even if the army has learned lessons from Olmert's 2006 Lebanon war against Hezbollah, when 114 Israeli troops were killed in a month of fighting. Hamas might also kill Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom it captured in 2006.
- However angry Israelis are at rockets fired from Gaza, fatal salvoes are still relatively rare. Three Israeli civilians have been killed this year. Outcry over the Lebanon war has made Olmert and his team wary of public reaction to troop losses.
- Heavy fighting would cause casualties among Gaza's 1.5 million civilians, half of whom are children. In Lebanon, 900 civilians died compared to 300 Hezbollah fighters, raising accusations of war crimes. Israel risks condemnation abroad, and possibly sanctions from some international partners.
-- Though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas shuns Hamas, a bloodbath in Gaza would put Abbas under huge domestic pressure to break off U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations.
-- Retaking Gaza would leave the problem of whether Israel would resume the occupation it ended in 2005 after 38 years. It has vowed not to. But withdrawing after an invasion might see more hostilities from even more embittered Gazans. There has been talk of foreign peacekeepers, as in Lebanon -- but few nations have much appetite for taking on Gaza's problems.
-- Some Israeli officials speak of a swift move into parts of the 45 km (30-mile) long strip of coast, notably into the relatively thinly populated Philadelphi Corridor in the south that would cut Hamas off from supply tunnels from Egypt and into northern areas from which rockets are hitting Israel.
-- Such a move, officials say, could be accompanied by air strikes and commando operations to kill the Hamas leadership and let Abbas's Fatah loyalists take control of the enclave.
-- Domestic politics may play a part. Some believe Defence Minister Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and senior general who returned to politics as leader of Olmert's main coalition ally Labour, could use a successful strike to enhance his standing before a possible election, should Olmert quit.
-- Even a limited operation risks casualties, both Israeli troops and Palestinian civilians, and their consequences.
-- It is unclear how hard it may be to dislodge Hamas even without senior leaders, and the rocket fire might continue.
-- Although Fatah has hundreds of thousands of supporters in Gaza, Hamas routed its forces a year ago. Hamas has pushed hard a message that Abbas is collaborating with Israel. And Hamas's 2006 election win confirmed its popularity in Gaza.
SANCTIONS AND DIALOGUE:
-- Israeli judges, not always helpful to the military, have ruled it lawful to cut energy and other supplies to Gaza. Israel has shown it can seal off Gaza quite easily.
-- By pushing Gazans to make a connection between hardship and Hamas rule at a time when aid money is flowing into the Fatah-run West Bank, Israel, its Western allies -- and Abbas -- hope Palestinians in Gaza will turn against the Islamists. A poll this week showed Abbas's popularity had rebounded and he would beat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in an election.
-- Egypt has been trying to broker a truce to end violence on the Israel-Gaza border and although efforts have so far failed to bear fruit this option is still being pursued for now.
-- It is unclear how far sanctions have hurt Hamas. And while both sides say they are open to dialogue, they begin poles apart. Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and wants it to halt all military activity in Gaza and end the blockade. Israel and its Western allies say Hamas must accept Israel's right to exist and end all violence.
-- Sanctions have drawn international condemnation and accusations Israel is breaking the Geneva Conventions because it is still effectively the occupying power. Hamas scored points with many when it forced open Gaza's Egypt border in January.
-- The embargo has hit Israeli businesses which long sold into Gaza and bought Gaza's fruit, flowers and other goods.
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