What can Israel gain from a Gaza ground offensive?

Jul 18, 2014

Defeat of Hamas may be off the cards, but Israel hopes to achieve a more limited victory


Yesterday afternoon, a "comprehensive ceasefire" between Israel and Hamas seemed imminent. Many commentators were therefore caught off guard when, a few hours later, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a ground offensive in Gaza.

Tanks and soldiers were being sent to the Gaza Strip to deal "a significant blow to Hamas", Israeli officials said.

What does Israel hope to achieve by sending troops into Gaza?

Israel's first ambition is to destroy tunnels constructed by Hamas and other groups, which they believe are being used by fighters to infiltrate Israel and bring in supplies from Egypt. 

Yesterday morning, the Israeli Defence Force claimed to have intercepted 13 Palestinian militants who emerged from a tunnel between Kerem Shalom and Kibbutz Sufa, to the east of the Gaza Strip. The Gazan fighters were repelled, but the destruction of similar tunnels to prevent further incursions became one of the primary motivations for the current ground operation. 

The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says that in sending troops and tanks into Gaza, Israel may also hope to "improve its military position" in advance of any prospective ceasefire deal.

What are the risks of a ground operation?

Gaza is well defended with "significant underground infrastructure and a number of relatively advanced anti-tank missiles", says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

In defending Gaza, Palestinian fighters will try to inflict casualties and also seize soldiers to act as bargaining chips.

But the biggest risk to Israel is the potential diplomatic fallout from killing civilians, Marcus says. Civilian deaths could set a timeline for the assault since "casualties will prompt ever greater international concern and pressure to halt any operation within as short a time period as possible".

What happened last time Israel went in to Gaza?

The last Israeli ground assault on Gaza was a "victory for Hamas", says The Guardian. While Israel was the winner in a military sense, Hamas "defended the territory effectively" and wound up with significant international support, including political backing from Egypt and financial aid from Qatar. However, the political and economic advantages were short-lived, and many within Gaza considered the loss of life too great a cost for such paltry gains.

What does Hamas want from the latest conflict?

Before it agrees to a ceasefire, Hamas "reasonably" wants prisoners who were arrested after the abduction and killing of three Yeshiva students to be released, the Guardian says. It also wants Israel to lift the economic blockade of Gaza.

But "unreasonably" Hamas wants to lay the blame for the current violence with Israel, even though "the evidence suggests that on this occasion it provoked that attack", the Guardian says.

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