Israel's return to Gaza: multiple motives
The Palestinian-Israeli standoff goes beyond one kidnapped soldier – for both sides.
NIZMIT HILL, ISRAEL AND TEL AVIV
Israeli troops captured at least 64 Hamas officials in an overnight roundup indented to increase pressure on the Palestinian militants who are still holding an Israeli soldier captive.Skip to next paragraph
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Another Israeli hostage, a young settler named Eliahu Asheri, was found dead in the West Bank. Israeli security officials said he was shot in the head.
Late Wednesday, Israeli war planes buzzed the home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who shelters the Hamas leaders that Israel blames for orchestrating the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. In response, Syrian forces fired on Israeli planes, Syria's state TV reported.
In Israel's first military operation in Gaza since disengagement, being called Operation Summer Rain, thousands of troops, backed by warplanes and tanks, moved into the coastal strip overnight Tuesday. The army knocked out nearly 75 percent of Gaza�s electricity supply, destroyed major highways and water supplies, and struck fields in northern and southern Gaza in a show of force meant to intimidate Palestinian militants. Artillery units also opened fire near Gaza City.
The official goal of the ground and air assault launched in Gaza, say Israeli army officers here, is to free Corporal Shalit.
But the analysis offered by rank-and-file soldiers may be closer to the truth.
"I don't believe at this point we'll be able to save Gilad Shalit, but we have to go in anyway," says Eliraz – conscripted troops can only give their first names.
Yvgeny, from the elite Givati Brigade, nods. "They'll know next time that they can't just go and kidnap our soldiers and expect to get away with it."
Israel's goal in Gaza is to make Palestinians uncomfortable enough to think twice about committing more kidnappings, or in the language floating around the camp here, to teach them a lesson.
On this hot, windy peak overlooking Gaza, where the Israeli army was amassed Wednesday after launching a night invasion of the territory it quit last summer after 38 years of occupation, senior military officials said that they will do everything they can to save Corporal Shalit.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant told reporters watching occasional plumes over the horizon that he was sure that Shalit, kidnapped by Palestinian militants early Sunday morning, was alive and being held in Gaza.
To be sure, the escalating conflict is about more than just one kidnapped soldier. After Palestinian groups launched more than 170 homemade rockets on Israel in the course of a month, there has been increased domestic pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to do something to stop the attacks.
Analysts say that unlike former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who had a history of taking an aggressive military stance, Mr. Olmert is considered relatively "untested" as a national leader, making it harder for him to display patience. Mr. Sharon and cabinet members who supported the disengagement plan – Olmert included – said that once Israel was no longer occupying Gaza, it would respond harshly.
Still, some Israeli news commentators worried in the morning papers whether Israel was about to get bogged down in Gaza again. Olmert said in a speech in Jerusalem that the operation would be limited. "We have no intention of recapturing the Gaza Strip. We have no intention of staying there."