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The Gaza offensive likely to end ?

When the Israeli offensive against Hamas started 18 days back, the comparisons with the 2006 campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon was the first thing that was raised. That campaign, even though caused huge amount of tactical damage to Hezbollah, was a strategic loss for Israel. Hezbollah got a reputation as a fighting force that was able to withstand the huge military advantage of Israel, and bring the much vaunted military machine to a halt (keep in mind that this is the same Israeli military that has consistently defeated the armed forces of its neighbors, right from the time of its birth in 1948). The result of this almost victory by Hezbollah (and managing to survive was seen as a victory) was its gaining in terms of gaining political clout in Lebanon. Now, Hamas is an organization that remains dedicated to the destruction of Israel (and has withstood a huge amount of external pressure to be seen as striking a deal with Israel).
So, there has been a lot of debate about the motives for the current Israeli campaign against Hamas. The chance of having to strike a deal that gives Hamas a cease-fire and the proclaiming power that it has managed to stop Israel in a direct fight was very high; and this was a risk that Israel would have to face. In addition, any fight between Israel and the Palestinians (even a terrorist organization such as Hamas) tends to inflame Muslim popular opinion all around the world and especially in the Muslim countries. Such inflammation of popular opinion tends to prevent the leaders of these countries from opposing Hamas even if they feel that Hamas is following wrong policies.

This aerial and ground campaign by Israel has now laster for 18 days, during which Israel seems to have learned from its previous such conflicts. It has withstood pressure from all around to stop this campaign (and taken heart from the Bush administration’s unwillingness to criticize Israel for these actions), taking the campaign deep inside Gaza. There have been a huge number of civilian casualties in this campaign, but Israel is stone-walling all such pressures. Inside Israel, the realization that Hamas controls a territory from where it can keep on attacking Israel through rockets that are steadily increasing in range (and from where it can soon reach crucial parts of Israel) would be part of the calculations to try and stop Hamas. This is a risky effort, and will not win Israel too many friends (although if the campaign succeeds and Hamas is weakened, there will be a weakening of the push by Iran and Syria to take leadership of the anti-Israeli campaign; something that will make many of the Governments of many of the Islamic countries of the region happy).

Israel says it attacked more than 60 targets overnight in Gaza as its offensive against Hamas entered its 18th day. The air assault came as Israeli troops advanced in the southern and eastern suburbs of Gaza City. The Israeli military also announced another three-hour ceasefire, starting at 0900 local time (0700 GMT), to allow aid lorries into Gaza.
Meanwhile, reports suggest diplomatic efforts between Egypt and Hamas in Cairo are progressing. After meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair said the elements were in place for a ceasefire agreement. “I am hopeful we can put an agreement together but it’s going to have to be worked on very hard and it’s got to be credible,” he told journalists. Israel hopes the scale of its operation will greatly reduce the number of missiles fired from Gaza into southern Israel, while eroding support for Hamas.

There are no easy solutions to the problem. The people of Gaza voted Hamas into a leading position, and pretty soon Hamas had evicted Fatah militarily from the strip of land, and taken command of the small strip of land abandoned by Israel in 2005. Hamas sees a long term aim as the eviction of Israel from the region, and does not recognize its right to exist. Israel is hoping that it will be able to destroy the top leadership of Hamas and scare it enough that Hamas will stop firing rockets into Israel, and one does not know whether that can ever be achieved.

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