And after Annapolis, Gaza?
The arguments against an invasion of Gaza are still stronger in the eyes of the prime minister and defense minister.
PRO: After the Annapolis summit there will be no more excuses, and the Israel Defense Forces can embark on a large-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip. First they said there was tension in the North and we should not open a front in the South, and then that we could not endanger the preparations for the peace conference. But the situation in Gaza has only worsened, and as time passes the enemy is becoming stronger. The time has come to go in, stop the intolerable firing of Qassams, prevent the terror organizations from getting stronger and bring down the Hamas government. How long will we wait? Until the rockets reach Ashdod? Rishon Letzion?
CON: The timing will be problematic even after Annapolis. The political leadership will not want to disrupt the negotiations on the "core issues" and the conflict's solution amid photographs of tanks confronting children in the refugee camps, with the entire world watching.
PRO: The political leadership will have to choose: Either draft the reserves for a comprehensive operation with a limited time frame or divide the Gaza Strip into three parts with regular forces and remain for a prolonged cleansing operation. The forces have been training extensively since the Second Lebanon War, and they are ready for an Operation Defensive Shield II in Gaza. They are only waiting for the order.
CON: The IDF did not stop the Qassams when it was operating inside the strip, and Hezbollah fired Katyushas without interference during the whole Lebanon war. The rocket threat is concentrated in the northern Gaza Strip, the weapons smuggling in the south, and the Hamas government in the center. Our soldiers will be killed, and the Palestinian population will suffer greatly.
PRO: Diplomatic considerations also require an operation in Gaza. First of all, the Israeli public will not support a diplomatic arrangement in the West Bank and will not believe in such an arrangement without proof that the government can give it security and handle threats. Second, the time has come for an overall counterattack on the bastions of the "axis of evil." The bombing in Syria was an initial and important step, but it was insufficient. Israel must bring down Hamas and hope that at the same time America will attack Iran.
CON: A renewed invasion of Gaza will prove that Israel is incapable of defending itself from within its borders, and will put an end to the vision of the peace agreement and the two-state solution. Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank is in its sixth year, and the IDF is still in Nablus and Jenin. It's impossible to invade, cleanse and withdraw to the Green Line without a responsible security force on the ground. Anyone who doesn't want to get stuck in Gaza for 18 years, as happened in Lebanon, has to think about an "exit point" before entering.
PRO: Logic says that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who presumes to speak in the name of all the Palestinians, must take responsibility for Gaza as well. Israel will bring down Hamas, top leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar will be arrested or killed, and the Palestinian Authority government will be invited to take back the Gaza Strip. Israel will cleanse the area and deploy Palestinian policemen in Khan Yunis and Rafah, as is being done now in Nablus.
CON: It is inconceivable to present Abu Mazen as a collaborator whose forces returned to Gaza in IDF trucks, and the IDF soldiers as mercenaries assisting one Palestinian faction against a rival.
PRO: And what is Israel doing on the West Bank? Isn't it supporting the Fatah government there and fighting Hamas? The talks with Abu Mazen began only after he rejected the results of the elections, which brought Hamas to power.
CON: That's precisely the problem. Abu Mazen and Salam Fayad are excellent partners for peace talks and international conferences; they lack an effective security force that will enforce order and prevent attacks. Until there is such a force, Israel will be unable to withdraw from the West Bank, and would have no way of exiting any invasion of Gaza. An international force will not want to come to Gaza as it did to south Lebanon, and even there UNIFIL is surviving only under Hezbollah's patronage.
TO SUM UP: Despite the growing frustration with the firing of Qassams, the flow of weapons into Gaza and the improvement in Hamas' combat capabilities, the arguments against an invasion of the Gaza Strip are still stronger in the eyes of the prime minister and defense minister. That could change under three circumstances: a serious Qassam strike or a terror wave that puts public pressure on the government, a regional war, or an unexpected strengthening of Abu Mazen and his followers.