Israeli ground forces have entered Gaza, further raising the stakes in what has, so far, been an extremely well-planned and, apparently, successful attempt to damage the military capability of Hamas. The incursion “won’t be easy and it won’t be short,” according to Defense Minister and presidential candidate Ehud Barak. Which sounds like trash talking to me–an attempt to maneuver Hamas into an early cry of “Uncle” and a cease fire agreement. Given Hamas’s essential intransigence, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Once again, Israel’s national security benefit will be severely mitigated if the impression begins to grow that it hasn’t been able to “wipe out” or “defeat” Hamas. The IDF can and probably will win an overwhelming military victory, given the fact that this has been much better planned (with much better intelligence) than the Lebanon campaign, and yet still be the perceived loser if the incursion isn’t a quick one–less than a week, I’d say. No doubt, the Israelis want the operation to be over before the Obama inauguration–it’s not neighborly to present your most important potential ally with a crisis at his moment of ascension. But it is very easy to get to stuck, and hurt, in alley-fighting.
I hope that Israel is working as hard behind the scenes to arrange a quick cease fire as it is fighting on the ground. It would be nice if we had a President of the United States with the credibility and ingenuity to make it happen. Perhaps we soon will.