Israel’s Options: There are three possible scenarios for how this operation will evolve. The first is that the government will opt for a limited attack whose goal isn’t the overthrow of the Hamas regime but merely the attainment of better terms in the next round of ceasefire–such as supervision over tunnels linking Gaza with Egypt and through which Hamas has smuggled in missiles. The argument for a limited operation is that Mahmud Abbas’s men aren’t ready to secure the Strip from Hamas–and even if they were, they would bear the mark of collaborators if they took control of Gaza courtesy of Israel.
The second scenario is the overthrow of Hamas and turning the Strip over to a foreign power–ideally Egypt, as the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has suggested. It’s doubtful, though, that Egypt will agree to relieve Israel of its Gaza burden. And NATO is on record as refusing to commit peacekeeping troops in the Palestinian territories.
The third option is to begin with the first option of a limited operation but, as fighting intensifies, find ourselves reluctantly implementing the second option of all-out war against Hamas. That may well be the least desirable option of all, leaving Israel vulnerable to events beyond its control. But given previous Israeli experience, that could be the most likely scenario.
The problem is that the way Israel is conducting itself right now is not a result of a well-defined strategy. This is because of the election season. The only way for Kadima to win is by regaining support by initiating a popular attack, such as this, and Labor also needs this so that they don’t die out entirely.
With regards to Halevi’s analysis of Israel’s options, I don’t think number one will happen, for different reasons entirely. Since the operation’s real impetus (at this time, that is – otherwise Olmert would have attacked months ago) is internal Israeli politics, the first option as a goal makes no sense - Israelis don’t really distinguish between Fatah and Hamas – both are seen as either equally tarnished or equally valid parties, there is very little in-between these daeys.
The second scenario will probably not happen either. NATO is on record basically denying any future committal of troops to the region, and so is Egypt (Begin’s attempt to hand Gaza to Egypt at Camp David failed). And Egypt wouldn’t do so today – nothing good will come of it to them. They would be forced to use force against the Palestinians, ruining Mubarak’s credibility both with his own people and across the Arab world. Either that, or they would lose credibility by allowing Israel to attack land under Egyptian rule.
The third scenario described is unlikely because Israel doesn’t fight wars that are unlimited in time and scope – eventually some UNSC resolution will be formulated or the US will push Israel to stop or something else along those lines.
There is, however, a fourth scenario, not one that stems out of real strategic thinking – but one that will simply, well, just happen. Israel will fight for a week or two - and will do a great deal of damage to Hamas, crippling it for a long period of time (similar to Defensive Shield). However, sometime during the fighing someone will eventually make a mistake, hitting a residential building or a schoolyard, killing a bunch of kids, making the world hate Israel even more, forcing Israel to end the fighting earlier than it wanted to.
There are talks now of delaying a ground war – probably stems from Olmert’s fear of a Lebanon 2006 repeat. If he does that, I think he squanders most, if not all, of the political capital he has just gained – because the rocket attacks will return in full force.
In other words, history repeating itself… stupid politicians at the helm, with no real thinking.