Adam Gonn
Xinhua (Analysis)
December 15, 2011 - 1:00am

Jerusalem Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- With a renewed upsurge in rocket fire into southern Israeli cities and towns in recent weeks by Gazan Palestinian militants, Israeli government officials and analysts are raising the possibility of a ground invasion along the lines of Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

"I think we can't avoid another confrontation. There's a lot of weapons in the Gaza Strip, a lot of terror groups," Southern Command Deputy Division commander Col. Jonathan Bransky told reporters during a tour of the border area between Israel and Gaza on Monday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and several other senior officials, have, in recent weeks, backed Bransky's warning of the necessity of ending the incessant barrages.

"It's more of an observation than a warning; it's an observation that what is happening now may very well lead to something like that - even if the Israelis and Hamas don't want it, " Dr. Dan Schueftan of the University of Haifa told Xinhua on Wednesday.

Operation Cast Lead was launched with the intent of quelling the increasing number of rockets fired from Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005.

While the operation did result in a reduction in the number of rockets being fired, over time the number rose again, placing one million Israelis within range of the latest long-range rockets, some of them able to reach 60 kilometers and more.

"The conduct of Hamas in the Gaza Strip is slowly bringing people of the mainstream of the Israeli establishment to the understanding that probably another clash will not be avoidable," Schueftan added.

Dr. Ely Karmon with the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism in Herzliya, however, believes that "the talk is intended to deter the Palestinians in Gaza from continuing the rocket fire, because clearly, the population in the south can't continue to live under these conditions."


While the Islamist group isn't believed to be behind the latest salvos, Israel, nonetheless, holds Hamas responsible for all rocket attacks emanating from Gaza, since the group took control of the coastal enclave in 2007 in a military coup against then arch-rival Fatah.

Schueftan argued that while more sophisticated missiles smuggled in from Libya may have been a factor behind Israeli military's warnings, it was not a major one.

"In other words, it's not just the potential. It's the realization of this potential and the fact that it's really not a product of a decision by Hamas, but it's the nature of the beast," Schueftan argued.

He said that the statements needs to be taken seriously, even if they were perhaps more analytical than political and that they were meant as a way to tell the Israeli public, 'look what is happening: here is something that we may not be able to contain for very long.'"

"It's the realization that this is a given situation; it's not a strategic decision by Hamas, but it's a sad realization that unfortunately this is where we are going," Schueftan said.


"The problem is that the Gaza situation is connected to what is happening in Israeli-Egyptian relations," Karmon said.

During Cast Lead, Israel believed its incursion into Gaza wouldn't affect its relation with Egypt, as then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shared Israel's view of Hamas and its Egyptian ally, the Muslim Brotherhood.

However, in February, Mubarak was forced to step down after massive protests in Egypt's capital Cairo, and the Muslim Brotherhood - which had been banned from Egyptian politics by Mubarak - reentered the scene.

In recent parliamentary election, the Muslim Brotherhood's powerful showing is expected to allow it to use its new influence to change Egyptian-Israeli relations. Some senior members, for example, have been calling for the peace agreement Egypt signed with Israel in 1979 to be either changed or annulled.

"The Israel government is aware that the Muslim Brotherhood will have control of the parliament, and it will be much difficult to launch an attack in case of serious rocket fire," Karmon said.

"So they have to try and deter them now, in the sense that there is a short opportunity for the Israeli government and army to deter the Palestinians," he added.

Among Israel's tactical options are "targeting the leaders or by trying to destroy the tunnels." The border region between Gaza and Egypt has, over the years, developed into a lucrative underground smuggling route, one used to bring weapons and ammunition, as well as consumer products, food, and even cars and trucks.

Egyptian presidential elections are scheduled for mid-2012, and Karmon argued that the months leading up to the elections would be indicative of not only where Israeli-Egyptian relations are heading, but also affect Israel's policies towards Gaza.


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