Isabel Kershner
The New York Times
November 16, 2011 - 1:00am

Israel’s military chief of staff warned Tuesday that the repeated rounds of escalated violence in the south would eventually require Israel to carry out another large-scale military operation in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

“We cannot continue with one round after another,” the official, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told a closed meeting of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He said the point at which a military operation would become necessary was “drawing closer.”

General Gantz’s assessment came during a routine security briefing to the parliamentary committee. The military later released a summary of his remarks.

Any such operation would have to be ordered by the political leadership, not the military. Nevertheless, the comments raised the prospect of another armed conflict in Gaza, where a fierce three-week Israeli military campaign in the winter of 2008-2009 drew international opprobrium.

At that time, Israel, prompted by years of persistent rocket fire on its southern communities, mounted a devastating air and ground offensive that left as many as 1,400 Palestinians dead and many homes and parts of Gaza’s civil infrastructure in ruins. Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the war.

Since then, Israeli security officials say, while an informal cease-fire has largely prevailed, Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza have managed to rebuild their weapons stocks and to acquire more advanced arms.

In late October, Israel killed nine Palestinians belonging to Islamic Jihad in several airstrikes on Gaza as the militants were preparing to fire rockets into Israel, according to the military. Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups fired barrages of rockets at southern Israel, killing a resident of the coastal city of Ashkelon. Schools in southern Israel were closed, and the daily routine of hundreds of thousands of Israelis was severely disrupted.

The relative calm since has been punctuated by a trickle of rocket fire and occasional Israeli airstrikes. Two rockets struck Israeli territory on Tuesday. No injuries were reported.

In his comments on Gaza, General Gantz said Israel would not be “dragged into” an operation there, but would rather initiate an orderly one.

His remarks came against the background of a brewing argument between the country’s defense minister and finance minister over proposed cuts to the defense budget. The defense minister, Ehud Barak, strongly opposes any cut, as does the military.

General Gantz told the parliamentary committee that Israel is facing a “more complex strategic reality” than before, and uncertainty on many fronts. That, he said, does not allow Israel “to take risks” through budget cuts.

Surveying an environment altered by the revolutions and the Arab Spring, General Gantz said Israel’s border with Egypt had now become susceptible to terrorist activity emanating from the Egyptian Sinai. He added that Palestinian frustration could still lead to an outburst of violence in the West Bank, referring to concerns stirred up by the Palestinian bid for de facto state recognition by the United Nations Security Council.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017