Israeli general hints at another Gaza campaign

Israel and Gaza traded fire this week as Israel began discussing the possibility of another incursion to reestablish 'deterrence.'

Mohammed Salem/Reuters
A Palestinian man watches the funeral of militant Momen Abu Daf on Friday. Abu Daf was killed in an Israeli airstrike, who accuse him of being the leader of an Al Qaeda affiliate and masterminding rocket attacks on Israel.

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A retaliatory Israeli airstrike killed a Palestinian militant today amid a gradual resurgence of fire across the Israel-Gaza border that has prompted discussions in Israel about an effort to reestablish "deterrence."

This week marks the third anniversary of the swift, devastating 2008-09 Israeli incursion into Gaza that was intended to cow Hamas into ending its rocket campaign in southern Israel. Although the ceasefire that ended Operation Cast Lead has largely held, there has been occasional fire, including this week.

On Dec. 28, Israel killed one Islamic Jihad operative and wounded 10 "global Jihad operatives" in two strikes, Haaretz reports. The following day, Gazan militants launched four rockets into southern Israel's Negev desert, causing no injuries.

The head of Israel's Southern Brigade said yesterday that preparations for another "large-scale" Israeli incursion into Gaza are underway "to renew our deterrence," Haaretz reports.

"We are preparing and in fact are ready for another campaign, which will be varied and different, to renew our deterrence, if we are called on to restore full quiet to the communities [in the south]," said the head of the division's Southern Brigade, Brig. Gen. Tal Hermoni.

"But I wouldn't eulogize Operation Cast Lead just yet," Hermoni added, in a briefing for military reporters. "On a daily basis, it's pretty quiet here. The mild response [to Tuesday's targeted killings] is evidence that they don't want to feel the IDF's fists."

The intention is a shorter operation that employs significantly more firepower than Cast Lead did. The IDF believes that Hamas and the many other terrorist groups operating in the Gaza Strip, some of them outside Hamas control, have more weapons than they did in 2008. Emboldened, they fired rockets at IDF troops for the first time this year, according to Haaretz.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the Gaza Strip, but many of the rockets are believed to come from other Palestinian factions. The man killed in today's Israel air strike, Muman Abu Daf, was leader of an Al Qaeda-inspired group known as the Army of Islam, BBC reports. The IDF believes the group planted explosives along the Israel-Gaza border and had a hand in planning an attempted attack along the Israel-Egypt border this week, according to The Associated Press.

Although Hamas continues to reject Israel's existence, it has attempted to keep a tense peace with Israel by trying to rein in rocket fire from more radical groups in the Gaza Strip, The New York Times reports. The efforts mean little to some Israeli military officials.

"We shoot when we're being shot at," one security official told Reuters Friday. "It's clear that Hamas does not have an interest in fanning the flames at this time, but it's not dousing them either."

According to a Haaretz report yesterday, in late November Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has ordered the group's military wing to cease attacks on Israeli targets. Israeli officials say they've detected no change in the group's behavior, nor have they received official word of Mr. Meshal's order. They attributed the decision to convenience, not a change of heart. Hamas in Gaza scoffed at Meshal's decision.

Hamas' leadership in Gaza said it was surprised by Meshal's statement and that "the only way to liberate the occupied lands is through the armed struggle." The Hamas interior minister in Gaza, Fathi Hamad, added that the group's "internal leadership" does not necessarily intend to abide by Meshal's policy.

In an analysis for Haaretz, military affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff writes that Meshal's decision is based on practicalities, not a true change in strategy or goals. He also notes that efforts to rein in rocket fire have earned Hamas in Gaza significant criticism, and prompted many defections to the more radical group Islamic Jihad, which continues to fire rockets.

The historical decision to modify the character of the Palestinian struggle – alongside Hamas' agreement to join the Palestine Liberation Organization (and in large measure to accept the written agreements with Israel ) – does not necessarily attest to a strategic shift in terms of goals. It's possible that Meshal and his aides realize that for now they need to forgo terrorist attacks in favor of new and more effective ways of achieving their goals: Indeed, Meshal and his colleagues admit that they have not completely abandoned the armed struggle and that they reserve the right to resist the Israeli occupation "using all means." Meshal also emphasized that Hamas does not intend to disarm or to stop the organization's huge arms buildup in Gaza.

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