30 December 2008
What is Israel's Gaza strategy?
First the Israelis tried to remove the Hamas government in Gaza by a policy of slowly starving the 1.5 million people who live in the territory. For instance, last month just 137 lorries were allowed through the Israeli checkpoints, a policy that one Israeli spokesman called putting the Gazans "on a diet".
Realising that this may not work, as indeed it hasn't, the Israelis began planning a military attack against the Gaza Strip about six months ago. Now that is a long time to plan things, and what it means is that if things do go pear shaped as they did in Southern Lebanon two years ago, then political fallout will be far greater than it was then. In 2006 Israel had the excuses that the operation was planned on the hoof and that the well trained Lebanese guerrillas had plenty of territory in which to manoeuvre. None of those excuses will wash in Gaza so Israel basically has to emerge as the clear and undisputed victor in this round of conflict. If Hamas survives in power and can continue lobbing the odd crude, home-made rocket into Israel, then most people will probably conclude that the Palestinians have emerged as the winner on points.
How might that play out? If the Palestinians can continue to absorb the terror raids by putting up such obvious signs of resistence as the continued launching of rockets then the Israelis will probably have to send their ground troops into the Gaza Strip. The question then becomes how well have the Palestinians in Gaza learned the lessons of Lebanon and Iraq? The Lebanese showed that a well trained militia, fighting on its home soil, could hold off a western style army. Iraq for its part showed that a combination of roadside bombs and rocket propelled grenades can send any number of westerners home in body bags. If the Palestinians have learned the lessons of thsoe two conflicts and have managed to turn the military wing of Hamas into something approaching what the Lebanese managed, then Gaza City could become the Golgotha of the Israeli army.