Israeli soldiers carry a comrade on a stretcher, who was wounded during an offensive in Gaza
Israeli soldiers carry a comrade on a stretcher, who was wounded during an offensive in Gaza, outside northern Gaza July 20, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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The growing number of dead and wounded Israeli soldiers – 13 soldiers killed Saturday night and early Sunday, in addition to the five who died on Friday and earlier Saturday, together with the 400 Palestinians killed so far, the majority of them innocent civilians, many of them children — prove that Operation Protective Edge is a real war, not a lightning operation in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s preliminary declared objectives – to restore calm and to destroy the tunnels designed for use in terror attacks in Israel – are becoming increasingly fuzzy. There is a fear that they are being replaced by a different ambition, stated succinctly by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as “going all the way.”

This means Operation Protective Edge could to turn into a newer model of Operation Big Pines, the plan that dragged Israel into the Lebanese mud for nearly two decades. The soft Gaza sand, which was a boon to Hamas’ tunnel-digging, could turn into quicksand for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.

One can assume that news of the number of soldiers who were killed will rekindle the vengeful spark that was ignited by the kidnapping and murder of the three teenagers in June, and that the cabinet, some of whose members were already pressing for all-out war, will be hard-put to resist the pressure.

This dangerous trend must be halted immediately. The reoccupation of the Gaza Strip must not become a goal, and we must not wait for that imaginary “victory image” before ending the war.

The violent confrontation between Israel and Gaza did not begin 14 days ago, nor will it end a week from now. It is an indivisible part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will not be solved by the discovery of tunnels and the wholesale killing of civilians. There can be no victory here.

Israel believes it enjoys a line of credit from the Arab countries and the international community that will allow it to continue to fight. Ostensibly Israel is in the right here, given the ongoing rain of rockets on its cities, but the many horrific photos from Gaza and the scope of the humanitarian disaster there is liable to make that line of credit very short-term.

Israel must help the mediators, particularly Egypt, to achieve an appropriate negotiated solution, and not hesitate to ease restrictions to assist Gaza residents. Israel must limit its time in the Strip, stick to the goals it declared at the beginning and stop the warfare once those goals are achieved. It must not drown in the sands of Gaza.