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For Israel, costs and benefits of striking Gaza

Israel assassinated a senior Hamas militant, Ahmed Jabari, today. How much further will the Gaza strikes go?

By Staff writer / November 14, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Israel launched a major offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing the military commander of Hamas in an airstrike.

Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

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(Since this story was published on November 14, a lot has happened. Some of the Monitor's latest stories include a consideration of the effectiveness of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, Israeli preparations for a possible ground assault on Gaza, a look at the propaganda war, an analysis of the costs and benefits of escalation for both Israel and Hamas, and sympathy for Gazans and doubts about a ground war from Israel's south, the region of the country most vulnerable to rocket fire.)

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Staff writer

Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.

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Israel's assassination of senior Hamas militant Ahmed Jabari on Wednesday appears to be just the start of the farthest-reaching offensive on Gaza for years. Various Israeli officials had been agitating for days for serious retaliation to rocket fire from Gaza, never mind Hamas promising to stop the rockets on Tuesday. Today, those officials' wish was granted.

But how serious will the retaliation be? That is the question that has yet to be answered. There have been at least two dozen airstrikes in Gaza so far today, and there are unconfirmed reports coming out of the territory that other senior Hamas officials have been targeted.

Will there be a ground incursion? Israeli Home Defense Minister Avi Dichter seemed to call for one when he said Tuesday: "There is no precedent in history of destroying terror by air power alone. It hasn't happened and it won't happen. Thus it is necessary to reformat Gaza altogether."

Or will the guns soon go silent, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refocusing on his country's January election, having bolstered his "tough on terror" credentials without a messy and uncertain ground action?

Israeli spokesmen say more than 750 rockets fired from Gaza have hit southern Israel this year. The rockets sow real and deep terror in Israeli communities. But that's about all they can do. The vast majority of the rockets from Gaza are like C-minus high school science fair projects, carry limited amounts of explosive, and are impossible to aim. For all that rocket fire, not a single Israeli has been killed by one this year.

Israel's overwhelming military superiority to all the armed groups in Gaza (Hamas may be the biggest, but it's not the one that usually fires the rockets) means that when it retaliates, lives are lost on the Palestinian side of the fence and substantial damage is done to the enclave's infrastructure. That's what happened in the last major assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which ran for three weeks starting in late December 2008. The toll was more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, along with devastation of Gaza's electricity system and other basic infrastructure.

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