Official hints Israel may occupy all of Gaza
Israeli officials - including Prime Minister Netanyahu - are hinting that the ground operation launched by the IDF may last "months" and that the ultimate goal may be to occupy all of the Gaza strip.
The main target of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza are secret tunnels linking it to Israel, like the one Israel says Hamas militants used this week in an attempt to infiltrate and attack it. Still, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, said that Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” could result in Israel taking control of the entire Gaza Strip.
“The tunnels are the target of this operation, but alongside that, I don’t rule out the possibility of addition stages, of Stage B and Stage C, and the expansion of this operation,” Steinitz said in a speech following Netanyahu’s and broadcast on Israel Radio. “We will weigh all options in coordination with the needs of the operation, and even though we’re not interested in it, the possibility of taking control of the entire Gaza Strip to eliminate the possibility of launching missiles from there.”
Some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been vocal about their assessments that the only solution in Israel’s eyes is a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel seized Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, and didn’t remove its settlers and soldiers from the region until 2005, nearly 40 years later.
But Azriel Bermant, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says that re-taking control of the Gaza Strip is considered an extreme option among Israel’s security policy-making circles, and is probably some combination of bluster and wishful thinking on the part of rightists like Lieberman. Netanyahu, Bermant says, is more “risk-averse” and unlikely to want to make a move that would not only be condemned internationally and lead to casualties on both sides, but could also further complicate things in Gaza.
Getting rid of the tunnels is one thing. This is an operation that many Israelis see as long overdue. But smashing Hamas and re-occupying Gaza may be emotionally satisfying, but would lead to chaos and the probability that Gaza would become virtually ungovernable. Also, the international outcry against reoccupation would complicate Israel's diplomacy.
Breaking the ability of Hamas to threaten Israeli citizens - even if only temporarily - is probably the mid range goal of Netanyahu's evolving strategy. What the IDF can accomplish beyond that is unknown.