January 6, 2009
The way events played out yesterday did not stir the political leadership into thinking of stopping the ground offensive and moving toward a cease-fire. On the contrary, Israel is moving toward a decision to occupy the whole Gaza Strip.
The message yesterday from Jerusalem was that it is impossible to end Operation Cast Lead without an achievement, and if in the next two days there is no satisfactory diplomatic solution, Israel will have to broaden the operation.
“Broadening the operation” could mean moving from house to house as in Operating Defensive Shield in 2002 in the West Bank, aiming to kill or capture as many Hamas fighters as possible. Or it could mean surrounding Gaza City, similar to the way the Egyptian Third Army was cut off in 1973, or like the siege of Beirut in 1982, until Hamas’ leaders emerge from their hideouts with their hands up. This could take several weeks.
Political sources are denying reports of a disagreement at the top over the future of the operation, and insist that Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni are united in their understanding that under the current circumstances Israel should continue until there are diplomatic gains. Other sources say there are problems. Barak believes that rejecting the French offer for a cease-fire last week was a mistake that made Israel miss a good opportunity to end the operation; now he wants to go on. Olmert, according to some reports, is pushing for a broadening of the offensive. Livni is worried that any international developments may grant Hamas legitimacy.