As diplomatic efforts to end the Gaza bloodshed gain pace, Israel may have managed to weaken Hamas’s firepower, but it is far from achieving a full demilitarisation of the Palestinian enclave, experts say.
After 17 days of an unrelenting offensive against Hamas in Gaza, Israel is facing a race against time to complete their stated mission of destroying the tunnels which allow Hamas fighters to reach Israeli territory.
Giora Eiland, a former national security advisor, told AFP it would “only be a matter of days” before the operation achieved its goal.
Thirty tunnels in the complex underground network have already been eradicated, the army announced on Wednesday, without specifying how many remained.
That is the Israeli intelligence services’ “blindspot”, the Haaretz newspaper said, querying, along with many Israeli citizens, why it took a war for the army to learn of the existence of the tunnels.
As for the army’s second objective of destroying the stockpile of missiles under Hamas and Islamic Jihad control, Eiland says it was necessary “to pass a fine-toothed comb over Gaza to discover every cache”.
According to military intelligence, of the estimated 9,000 missiles stockpiled before the conflict, more than a third have been wiped out by Israeli strikes and another third have been launched in the direction of Israel.
And of the remaining stocks, it is thought that the Palestinians have 150 medium- to long-range rockets left, enough to batter Israeli territory around Tel Aviv, “for several weeks”, according to daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot.
But the final underlying reason for the onslaught, to attack the leadership of Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, would appear the most difficult to fulfil.
– Leading lights –
The army published its list of four “figures targeted by the attacks” on Wednesday, featuring leading lights in the Islamic Jihad movement.
There was, however, no confirmation they had been killed. Israel has arrested nearly 150 Palestinian militants in Gaza.
“Hamas will not give up until it no longer hears the sound of Israeli tank motors in the tunnels somewhere under Gaza city, where their leaders are hiding,” claimed Ben Caspit, a commentator for the Maariv newspaper.
In so far as hopes for a ceasefire called for by the international community go, Israeli experts are united in seeking the expansion of the present military campaign.
Yediot Aharonot commentator Alex Fishman called on the army to “put their foot on the accelerator”, starting by “relieving troops who have been on the ground for the past week”, many of them traumatised by the deaths of 32 of their colleagues in the worst losses the army has suffered in eight years.
– Pockets of resistance –
Commentators are also united in being haunted by the spectre of so many deaths — more than 777 Palestinians and 35 on the Israeli side — at the last count – “for nothing”.
Yuval Diskin, former head of the Israeli domestic intelligence unit Shin Bet, advised Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s government to order “taking control” of land in Gaza occupied by “certain pockets of resistance” as the only way to avoid “ending up with a status quo between Hamas and Israel which will have left so many victims without achieving significant progress”.
While some analysts are looking towards “the morning after” the truce, others are resigned to a further cycle of violence between the two protagonists.
“Against the well-established strategy of a non-state enemy like Hamas, Israel should simply ‘mow the grass’ from time-to-time in order to reduce its opponents’ capacity,” suggested Efraim Inbar, in the pro-government Israel Hayom daily.
But if Israel wants to win the war, not simply this battle, it must make sure this round of violence is the last, Eiland suggested.
But for that to happen, he said, Israel should base its negotiations for a ceasefire agreement on demands for the “demilitarisation of Hamas, the only way to guarantee the long-term success of this operation”.