Would a ground war in Gaza backfire on Israel?

Israel is amassing troops on the border of the missile-lobbing Gaza Strip. The U.S. is hardly alone in warning its ally against an invasion

Israeli soldiers prepare weapons in a deployment area on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Nov. 19.
(Image credit: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Israel and Hamas appear to be careening from mutual rocket attacks toward all-out war. Early Monday, Israel launched a sixth day of deadly airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian militants continued their barrage of more primitive (but improving) missiles. Over the weekend, two reached as far as Tel Aviv before being shot down by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. So far, the back-and-forth has killed at least 81 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, and three Israeli civilians. Meanwhile, Israel is amping up its rhetoric: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages," Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Saturday. "Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years." And Israel is also continuing its build-up of troops along the Gaza border. President Obama is publicly supporting Israel's right to defend itself after a year of escalating rocket attacks from Gaza, but he and other U.S. officials have privately warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a bloody ground invasion would damage Israel's standing in the volatile region and the world, a potential boon for Hamas. Would a ground war backfire on Israel?

A ground war is a terrible idea: After a year of missiles being fired into Israel from Gaza, "the air campaign against Hamas rocket sites is understandable and defensible," says Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. A ground invasion is not. Sending in troops "will lead to misery and woe; to a total rupture with Egypt; to a further loss of legitimacy, and thus, deterrent capability." Plus, Hamas would just rebuild. Israel "shouldn't lay waste to Gaza, both because this is immoral, and because Gaza will, the day after, still be Israel's neighbor."

"Against a ground invasion of Gaza"

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But Israel has to crush Gaza this time: Israel's military campaign in Gaza must end "with a bang, not a whimper," says Gilad Sharon in The Jerusalem Post. That means if Israel doesn't send in the army to occupy the entire Strip, we need to "flatten all of Gaza." That sort of decisive victory is the only way Hamas, and the Palestinians who willingly support it, will "beg for a cease-fire." Sure, "the images from Gaza might be unpleasant — but victory would be swift, and the lives of our soldiers and civilians spared."

"A decisive conclusion is necessary"

Israel isn't going to win this with violence, period: There's no doubt that Israel can "once again achieve many of its short-term tactical goals" against Hamas, says Janine Zacharia at Slate. But what then? It's past time to call "Israel's policy toward Gaza and Hamas a failure," and yet another aggressive military offensive won't bring Israelis the security they crave. For that, "Israel needs a far more sophisticated, diplomatic, long-term strategic policy" that probably includes talking to Hamas. Netanyahu may be justified in striking Gaza, "but being justified isn't the same thing as being smart."

"Why Israel's Gaza campaign is doomed"

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