It seems the major strategic mistake in the planning of Operation Cast Lead was the decision to start from a point where it was difficult for the Israel Defense Forces to add to the destruction from the air. When a hundred targets are attacked in the first foray, using scores of aircraft, if you don't end the military move immediately - or if Hamas doesn't surrender - all the subsequent air attacks are inevitably more limited. The air force has wiped out nearly all the targets in the famous "target bank," and the problem remains of identifying additional targets that would have a great influence on Hamas' decisions if attacked.
When the planners of the fighting realized what should have been clear from the outset, that the Hamas government wasn't going to raise a white flag after the destruction of the first hundred targets, the ground move became inevitable. It was impossible to increase the harshness of the air attacks beyond the first blow, and the air force had to seek new targets that were not "quality targets" like the ones already destroyed, at a time when pressure had to be increased on the Palestinians in the absence of a cease-fire. For these reasons there remained only a ground incursion.
Another problem has to do with the aims of the fighting. The government has stated a vague aim for the war - to change the security situation on the Gaza border. The IDF's role was to translate this vague aim into military moves. It appears the senior command decided to shock the Palestinians by killing as many people connected to Hamas as possible. The assumption was, apparently, that killing several hundred people would make the Hamas leaders surrender or plead for a cease-fire. This is one of the reasons the air attack was carried out as a surprise. The IDF, which planned to attack buildings and sites populated by hundreds of people, did not warn them in advance to leave, but intended to kill a great many of them, and succeeded.
There has been excessive use of military force here. Because it was clear that the fighting would end in an arrangement with the Palestinians, the use of military force was supposed to signal that Israel had the power to hit any target in the Gaza Strip, and it would be best for Hamas to quickly discuss a cease-fire that would prevent further killing.
For this signal to be persuasive there is no need to kill hundreds of people. After all, in the end we will have to talk with the Gaza Palestinians, and there is no advantage to adding thousands more to the cycle of hatred and revenge. It is not clear, for example, what advantage or military gain stems from the intentional killing of a hundred or more Palestinian policemen standing on parade. After all, killing them contributes nothing to fighting terror and expands the circle of haters.
It appears that the aim of the ground forces - which were brought in, as expected, amid a dwindling supply of targets and a low likelihood of an acceptable cease-fire agreement - is also vague. Is it necessary only to maintain a blockade of Gaza and continue to kill Hamas people, or perhaps go into Gaza's streets and refugee camps and engage in house-to-house fighting in search of the organizations' leaders?
The mishap that killed three soldiers from so-called friendly fire does not necessarily imply failure. Similar things happen in every war. The defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War began when the American army and its commanders adopted the policy of "body counts." The other aims, such as forcing the North Vietnamese government to its knees or destroying the Vietcong's fighting capability, could not be achieved even with the excessive and indiscriminate use of military force. All that remained was to boast of the numbers of Vietcong dead.
It is to be hoped that the continuation of the fighting in the Gaza Strip will not lead the IDF to adopt a policy of "body counts" here too. The deaths of several hundred more Palestinians will not necessarily lead to a better arrangement, most certainly not in light of blows that are killing many civilians, as at the United Nations school.