On Thursday, Israel launched a second day of punishing air strikes on Gaza, escalating an offensive that began in response to Palestinian rocket fire. In Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, health officials said the Israeli strikes had killed 15 people, including Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari. In southern Israel, three civilians have been killed by retaliatory strikes from Gaza. The international repercussions from the fighting are only just beginning. Egypt's Islamist-led government recalled its ambassador to Israel, while the United Nations Security Council urged both sides to halt the violence. The Obama administration, for its part, has backed Israel's "right to defend itself," but urged Israel to "take every effort to avoid civilian casualties." Where will this conflict lead? Here, four possible consequences:
1. Israel might launch another ground invasion
"Israel has not ruled out a ground invasion" into Gaza, which was invaded by Israeli forces four years ago, says Dan Ephron at The Daily Beast. Israel's far-superior military would easily take Gaza, but such a move "would surely raise the casualty toll and stoke Arab anger." But Israel so far hasn't mimicked its 2008 strategy of saturating Gaza with bombs to carve a safer path for its ground troops, says Dan Williams at Reuters, which could signal a reluctance to invade. Israel's caution could also reflect the weak international position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose "listless peacemaking with Hamas' moderate Palestinian rivals has raised hackles in Europe and Washington." Before any ground invasion, Israel would have to explain to the world that it's not the aggressor here, says The Jerusalem Post in an editorial. Gaza militants have been firing hundreds of rockets at civilians, and the Israeli government has to protect people who "live in constant fear of being struck down by a rocket or a mortar shell."
2. Israel's peace treaty with Egypt could unravel
Since the fall of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has been "edging away from its longstanding cold peace with Israel," says Dan Murphy at The Christian Science Monitor. "A major offensive in Gaza will accelerate that process." It could also prompt the Egyptian government, now controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, to withhold its cooperation with Israel in sealing Gaza's borders, making it easier for militants and arms to enter Gaza. The response by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has been relatively subdued so far, says Eric Trager at The Atlantic, but he's going to come under pressure to take "a more confrontational posture."
3. The U.S. may put serious pressure on Egypt
The Obama administration can't afford to stand by and let Egypt sever its diplomatic ties with Israel, says Trager. Morsi must be reminded of "the importance of maintaining Egypt-Israeli relations, which have served to prevent war between two of the region's strongest militaries for the past three-plus decades." Obama must keep Morsi "within well-defined red lines" using U.S. economic aid as leverage, as well as American support for a $4.8 billion IMF loan that Egypt badly needs.
4. Netanyahu could strike back hard
On the political front, "Palestinian leaders should remember that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is headed for general elections" in a few months, says Lebanon's Daily Star in an editorial. Israelis are already on edge over "heightened tensions in the occupied Golan Heights, due to the spillover from the war in Syria." In such an atmosphere, Netanyahu and his government have to avoid looking soft on any "perceived challenge to Israel's security." Hamas leaders should weigh their response accordingly. Netanyahu's government "will strike back with deadly force, because the run-up to an election is the ideal time for them to score political points."