Saturday, January 03, 2009

And Now, A Ground War

On July 20, 2006, eight days into what would eventually be called the Second Lebanon War, I wrote a blog entry entitled "And Now, A Ground War." Here we are -- sadly -- a little less than 30 months later, and I find myself returning to the same title for today's post. On the eighth day of an apparently effective Israeli military air operation (still no name for this war yet), the Israeli government has added a new ingredient to its operational playbook in the form of a "ground incursion" into northern Gaza. Military censorship and the absence of professional journalists in the battle zone makes first accounts of the scope and lethality of the ground incursion frustratingly vague. Is this a full-scale re-occupation of Gaza? Hardly likely; why blow up the entire civilian infrastructure and then take responsibility for reconstructing a slum you yourself ruined? Is this going to be a major ground offensive designed to topple the Hamas regime, but just shy of reoccupation? I doubt it, but there certainly is a scenario which allows for that chaotic possibility. Will Hamas fighters prove to be as tough as Hizbollah of 2006? Will the Israeli Southern Command of 2009 prove to be as poorly run as Northern Command was in 2006? Will Israeli public opinion turn from its current support for this relatively painless, low-involvement stand-off air campaign to the scepticism and distaste that high-casualty ground wars usually produce?

I never would have counseled or endorsed going to war against Hamas in Gaza, and said so often enough to questioners who asked me what should be done about Hamas. But that train has left the station. Now there is a war, and I freely admit that I am utterly baffled as to the objectives, the timing, and the wisdom of this war. It has some dimensions that are arguably quite different from 2006, but there are too many close parallels that cause me to scratch my head and wonder why this is happening.

One thing is rather intriguing: by most accounts (including my own), the 2006 war was a strategic failure for Israel. And yet, we have not seen a single missile fired or kidnapping operation attempted anywhere these past 8 days along the Lebanese border. Did Israel accomplish some kind of useful deterrent standoff with Hizbollah back in 2006 that persists until this day? and is it now using approximately similar tactics against Hamas to achieve a similar deterrent standoff for the future?

Time will tell, but on the eve of what may very well be a full-fledged ground war, I for one remain a skeptic. I just don't understand how this will end well for those who started it.

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