Israel ready for Gaza invasion as ex-Mossad man urges caution
Israel warns Palestinians of ‘second phase’ of operation against Hamas, but is an invasion really necessary?
TROOPS and tanks are massing on the Israeli border ready to join a possible incursion into the Gaza Strip. As Israel pounds Hamas positions in Gaza for a fifth day - and the Islamist government of the Palestinian territory continues to fire rockets back - the elite Paratroopers Brigade is ready to lead any assault, supported by the Golani infantry brigade and two tank brigades, The Sunday Times reports.
Israel has been broadcasting a message in Arabic over Palestinian radio frequencies warning civilians about its military operation, dubbed ‘Pillar of Defence'. "To the people of Gaza, Hamas is playing with fire and gambling with your fate,” it says. “The Israel defence force is moving toward the second phase of its operation. For your safety you should stay away from Hamas infrastructure and personnel."
It is unclear what the “second phase” refers to, but there is plenty of talk in Israel of a ground assault, which would mark its first invasion since Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today Israel is ready to "significantly expand" its operation in Gaza.
"Morale is high. We are currently training and preparing for ground possibilities," Lt Col Avital Leibovich of the Israel Defence Forces said, according to The Sunday Telegraph. "This isn’t like any other operation. This is to defend 3.5 million Israelis who are under rocket attack."
Israeli news service Ynet said that the call-up of 75,000 reservists had been begun "to lay the ground for an expanded offensive on Gaza", The Independent on Sunday reports.
In truth, Israeli troops are already thought to be inside Gaza: special forces are reported to be searching the area for the Iranian-supplied long-range Fajr-5 rockets, at least six of which have menaced Tel Aviv since the upsurge in violence started last week. None have so far hit the Israeli capital, thanks partly to the IDF’s Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Last night, Israeli leaders were stressing that no decision had yet been taken about an invasion. The Telegraph notes that the government is “painfully aware that Israel’s recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon have started well before becoming bogged down”.
The paper continues: “There has been broad international support so far for the bombing campaign against rocket sites, but that could wane if a ground invasion led to a sharp rise in the number of people killed.”
Israel’s hardline foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman says that if an invasion is launched, they will have to see it through and achieve their aims of “creating real deterrence via a crushing response” and destroy stockpiles of rockets belonging to Hamas, the Independent reports.
Lieberman suggested this had not been done during the 2008-09 invasion. This "was why we failed to achieve our goal and had to pay a heavy toll when it came to global public opinion".
However, if the aim is to destroy rockets, an invasion is unnecessary, according to some. General Danny Yatom, a former head of the Mossad, urges the Israeli government to be cautious, according to the Telegraph.
“I hate the idea that we will have to enter by land into Gaza,” he says. “It is a highly populated area. The manoeuvrability of ground forces is greatly limited under those conditions.
“Such an operation might cause on our side many more casualties than would be caused by rocket attacks and, in addition, there is no doubt it would cost many more lives on the Palestinian side. I think a ground operation is needless, unless there is a deterioration.”