Israel's return to Gaza: multiple motives
The Palestinian-Israeli standoff goes beyond one kidnapped soldier – for both sides.
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On Nizmit Hill, however, where the crash of a Kassam rocket could be heard and felt, soldiers mused that Israel would wind up spending much longer here than it did during the week-long evacuation of settlers from Gaza.Skip to next paragraph
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General Galant suggested that from Israel's point of view, the ball is in the Palestinians' court.
"What we see is that the men in Hamas and in the Palestinian Authority are capable of giving us more information, or of influencing the people who are holding him," Galant said of the kidnapped soldier. If Shalit is returned and the Kassam rockets stop, he indicated, the Israeli offensive would end.
In Gaza, the kidnapping is helping to bolster support for Hamas at a time when its military wing has lost support by taking a back seat to Islamic Jihad and the Public Resistance Committee (PRC). Hamas militants had been honoring a calm in attacks on Israel.
"They want to prove that they are resisting Israel, and they want to gain more popularity," said Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based economist.
President Abbas has called on the militants responsible for the kidnapping – a mix of Hamas military wing members and activists in the nonpartisan Popular Resistance Committee – to return the soldier unharmed. But he also condemned the Israeli action Wednesday as collective punishment. There have been two incidents in Gaza recently in which the Israeli army killed innocent bystanders while aiming to assassinate wanted militants.
In Israel, the abduction has resonated more deeply with the public than the weeks-long rocket attacks on the southern city of Sderot. Because everyone in Israel serves in the army, most Israelis can relate to the plight of the abducted soldier.
"There's a saying in the army that you don't leave your wounded on the battlefield. We'll do everything so he'll live. It's the value of human life," says Moran Ohana, who commanded a tank similar to the one from which Shalit was kidnapped.
"There is a feeling that this is going to be a big mess. That the intifada will come back."
And yet, Israelis were skeptical about whether the push into Gaza would succeed in freeing the captive.
"We have a history of being kidnapped, so we know what is going to be the end of him," says Matan Eshel, a former infantry soldier in Lebanon who now works in a Tel Aviv pizzeria. "When they send in commandos, it usually ends up with the terrorist dead, several other soldiers – and the hostage."
On many Israelis' minds are Olmert's upcoming plans for pulling out of West Bank settlements.
"The question to my mind is whether we should be unilaterally withdrawing with Hamas in power, and with the government being unable to offer a convincing response to the shelling of Sderot.
"This is a major test for the Olmert government," says Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute. "The first test was Sderot and the government has failed that test," he says.
"What the public wants to see is some new strategic thinking without a clumsy invasion that will leave us many casualties and leave us where we before."
• Safwat al-Kahlout in Rafah and wire material contributed to this report.