TIME Israel

Israel’s Gaza Invasion Could Last Months

Israeli soldiers march in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, on July 18, 2014, the 11th day of Operation Protective Edge.
Israeli soldiers march in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, on July 18, 2014, the 11th day of Operation Protective Edge. Xinhua—Sipa

There's no exit strategy because Israel doesn't yet know how far it will go

As Israel pushed forward Friday with its first ground invasion of Gaza in more than five years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that a bigger operation was likely to unfold in the coming days and weeks.

“My instructions, and those of the Defense Minister, to the [Israeli Defense Forces], with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly,” Netanyahu said in a Friday speech.

Netanyahu used the address to explain to Israelis why he’s moving forward with a ground war that will put Israeli soldiers in harm’s way and is liable to engender already-mounting international criticism for the innocent lives that will inevitably be lost along the way.

“We chose to commence this operation after we had exhausted the other possibilities,” Netanyahu added, “and with the understanding that without action, the price that we would pay would be much greater.”

The price that both sides will pay is yet unknown. 270 Palestinians have been killed so far in this most recent wave of violence, and more than 2,000 have been injured, while two Israelis have been killed and about 10 Israelis injured. The human cost of the conflict is unpredictable in part because Israel has not yet decided how far it’s going in Gaza, and, therefore, what its exit strategy should be. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday that the operation would continue “until it’s necessary and until the quiet returns.”

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.

“The problem with talk of overthrowing Hamas is that you don’t want to leave Gaza in a state of chaos, and you have no idea what will replace it. Given what’s going on in the region, I don’t think anyone really wants to take that risk,” Bermant said, referring to ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has taken control of major swaths of Iraq after pouring over from Syria’s border amidst that country’s ongoing civil war.

Netanyahu is seen domestically as having been patient — if not downright dovish — in his reluctance to launch the ground invasion that many politicians and army top-brass had begun to see as inevitable several weeks ago. But an attempted infiltration Thursday, in which the IDF spotted 13 Palestinians who successfully entered southern Israel through an underground tunnel they had dug from Gaza, made it easier for Israel to chose its moment.

“The last straw was this attempted invasion yesterday,” Bermant adds. “From that point onward Netanyahu must have felt he couldn’t hold back. It was just what he needed, and with rocket strikes continuing, putting almost the entire Israeli population at risk, it all added up to having to start the ground campaign that Netanyahu tried to avoid.”

So far, both Israeli and Palestinian sources say that Israeli soldiers have not made their presence felt in highly populated areas, but have instead focused on destroying tunnels that are along the perimeter of Gaza and Israel. The IDF said in its Hebrew Twitter feed that the ground campaign had some 150 “terror targets” on its list, and Israel Radio reported that 18 tunnels were foremost among these.

The stage B and C that Steinitz referred to could include going into urban areas – Gaza City as well as the strip’s many refugee camps – in search of rocket launchers and rocket stockpiles. Israeli soldiers were sent to do this kind of high-risk, house-to-house combat during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, and also in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Few want to get to a Stage C, which could mean a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip for a period of months, says Dr. Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Gloria Center at the IDC Herzliya.

“As of now, they’re not headed that far into Gaza. If it stays focused on the tunnel openings, then they might stay quite close to Gaza’s border. But my sense is that if the rocket fire on Israel continues, it raises the possibility of a further incursion.

“A large element of this is punitive: to punish Hamas in order to build deterrence,” Spyer adds. “But I don’t think there’s any intention of reoccupying Gaza and bringing down Hamas as an authority. Israel has no realistic options in that matter – I don’t think that [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas can just receive the Gaza Strip from Israel on a silver plate. We’re also not going back to 1992 with an open occupation of the Gaza Strip.”

After all, regime change has been tried in the region before – and looking east to Iraq, it seems it rarely turns out well.

TIME Israel-Gaza conflict

Casualties Mount As Israel Continues Gaza Ground Offensive

A Palestinian family who fled their homes is en route to seek shelter in a UN school in Khan Younis, central Gaza Strip, 18 July 18, 2014.
A Palestinian family who fled their homes is en route to seek shelter in a UN school in Khan Younis, central Gaza Strip, 18 July 18, 2014. Oliver Weiken—EPA

27 Palestinians and one Israeli killed in the offensive that began Thursday night

Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza increased Friday with the use of tanks, artillery and gunboats, Reuters reports. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was prepared to “significantly widen” the ground offensive against Palestinian militants in the area.

Thousands of Israeli troops, preceded by six tanks, entered parts of Gaza around 10 p.m. local time Thursday. Many Palestinians had already fled towards the center of Gaza, having been warned of the invasion by Israeli leaflets and automated phone messages.

By Friday, Palestinian health officials said 27 Palestinians, including three children, had been killed in the offensive. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported a loss of one soldier.

“Last night our forces began a ground operation to hit the terror tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel’s territory,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in a special live broadcast Friday. It is not possible to deal with the tunnels only from the air … My instructions … are to prepare for the possibility of significantly widening the ground operation.”

Hamas responded to Israel’s offensive by firing mortars at Israeli troops and launching rockets into the southern Israeli towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon.

Israel launched the ground offensive after Palestinian militants fired over 100 rockets into Israel at the close of a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire. The militants had also reportedly fired three mortars into Israel during the cease-fire. The Gaza invasion follows a 10-day conflict with Palestinian militants that saw 1,380 rockets launched at Israel, Israel claims. The IDF responded with aerial and sea bombardments, including an attack that took the lives of several Palestinian boys playing on a beach.

It is not yet clear whether Israel will indeed expand its ground operations, which currently span the 36-mile Israel-Gaza border. So far, the Israeli military has primarily focused on seeking out tunnels Israel says are used by Palestinian militants to cross into the country. The IDF claimed Thursday it had repulsed 13 gunmen, alleged to be from Hamas, who emerged from a tunnel near a farming community in Israel.

Amid news that Israel is calling up 18,000 reservists to add to its 30,000 mobilized troops, a Hamas spokesperson said: “The ground invasion doesn’t frighten us, and the occupation army will sink in Gaza’s mud.”

Since the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas began on July 8, Gaza officials say 258 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. A further 2,000 have been wounded. Israel has reported the death of a civilian in addition to the solider killed in the Gaza offensive.

[Reuters]

TIME Gaza

Israel Launches a Ground Invasion of Gaza. No One Knows How It Will End

Israeli Markava tanks heading toward the Israeli-Gaza border early on July 18, 2014.
Israeli Markava tanks heading toward the Israeli-Gaza border early on July 17, 2014. EPA

As Israel sends ground troops into Gaza for the third time in six years, no one knows how the conflict will end

Updated: July 18, 2014, 5:15 a.m. E.T.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that the military is prepared for “significant expansion” of a ground offensive that saw Israeli tanks roll into the Gaza Strip on Thursday, after 10 days of aerial bombardment.

“At this point all options are on the table,” said Lt. Libby Weiss, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). “It’s not bound by time, [it's] more bound by objectives — to strike a blow to Hamas’ ability to carry out terror attacks against Israel.”

Journalists were told they had 30 minutes to evacuate seaside hotels in central Gaza City, a clear indication that Israeli operation will not be limited to the border areas. Weiss said the reach of the offensive would be continually assessed on strategic grounds. Israel has been amassing tanks and artillery on the border for more than a week and has called up 40,000 reserve soldiers. Since the launch of the offensive, the army has called up 18,000 more in next step of the 10-day-old Operation Protective Edge.

The ground invasion started hours after a temporary cease-fire on Thursday morning, which many hoped would lead to an official end to the hostilities. Palestinian and Israeli officials had been in Cairo, as Egypt attempted to broker a deal between Hamas and Israel. Those attempts have clearly failed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected in Cairo Friday in an effort to continue the talks.

Although there has been only one Israeli fatality from the more than 1,000 rockets fired from Gaza during this escalation — thanks in part to the success of the Iron Dome anti-missile system — the Gaza invasion will put Israeli troops in the line of fire. On Friday, an Israeli soldier and 20 Palestinians were killed as the operation went under way. In 2008, Israel’s Operation Cast Lead left nine Israeli soldiers dead, and another four killed by friendly fire. For Israel the objective is the conclusive destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure and military capability — an objective that Israel feels can’t be achieved with air and missile strikes alone. Officials wouldn’t say how many troops would be entering Gaza but said they would be supported by Israel’s air force and navy, and there will almost certainly be to be rising numbers of fatalities with the onset of the ground invasion.

But Israel’s army will not bear the brunt of the casualties. Already 200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have already been killed by Israeli strikes, and ground combat will put more at risk. At least over 1,300 Gazans were killed in Cast Lead and already four have been killed since the start of the invasion tonight.

For its part, Israel claims it had no choice but to launch the invasion. “It’s clear Hamas is rejecting multiple offers to de-escalate the situation,” said Lt. Weiss. But Hamas was looking for more than just a ceasefire. The militant group wanted end of restrictions on the blockaded territory of 1.7 million people and the release of Palestinian prisoners arrested in the last month, many of whom were swapped for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 but re-arrested in violation of the agreement. Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman based in Beirut, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday: “No one is talking against having a cease-fire, but we want a fair cease-fire to protect our own people for a long time, to protect them from the Israeli military attacks, from the siege, from the arrests.”

And while Hamas’ rockets have had almost no effect on Israel, the group has said its al-Qassam brigades are ready to engage in combat with Israeli forces. Meanwhile, as Israel pursues its military objective and combat escalates, it’s the civilians in Gaza, as always, who will suffer — like the four children killed by an Israeli strike in front of foreign journalists on July 16. Most Gazans cannot leave the strip, and thousands have already been internally displaced thanks to Israeli bombardments. With thousands injured, medical facilities are already stretched thin — and the war may only be beginning.

MONEY Markets

Markets React to Malaysian Jet Crash and Gaza Invasion

A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane
A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Investors sold off stocks in response to news that a Malaysian Airlines jet had crashed in eastern Ukraine today, reportedly killing 295 people. Ukrainian government officials said the plane may have been shot down; pro-Russian separatist fighters in the region denied responsibility. Then late in the trading day came reports that Israeli forces had begun a ground invasion of Gaza.

The S&P 500 index of large cap stocks fell more than 1% for the day. The Dow Jones Insutrial Average also declined, closing at 16,977, back below the 17,000 milestone it first crossed earlier this month.

ycharts_chart(2)

Investors in general moved away from risky to safer assets. The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell below 2.5%, down from 2.55% yesterday. A fall in bond yields means a rise in price, and reflects investors being willing to accept a low return in exchange for the safety of U.S. government-backed securities.

TIME Israel

Missiles from Lebanon are Landing in Israel—But Hizballah Isn’t the Suspect

Israeli security forces stand next to damage caused by Katyusha style rocket fired from Lebanon near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on July 11, 2014.
Israeli security forces stand next to damage caused by Katyusha style rocket fired from Lebanon near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on July 11, 2014. JINI/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Lebanon's most fearsome anti-Israel militant group has stayed out of the Gaza crisis. That could change if Israel overreacts to rockets coming from Lebanon

Israel has a lot of enemies in the region, so it’s not surprising that it is taking fire from multiple sides—including from southern Lebanon, the source of at least four missile launches into northern Israel in recent days. What is surprising is that none of those attacks originated from Israel’s archenemy Hizballah, the powerful Lebanese militia that dominates the country’s south.

Some 11 rockets landed in Israeli territory. No one was hurt. At least two failed to launch, according to Lebanese military accounts quoted in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, and one never made it into Israel. Not far from the United Nations-monitored Blue Line that demarcates the border between Lebanon and Israel, Lebanese bomb defusers. were able to dismantle two other rockets before they could be launched. All in all, the rocket attacks appear to be the work of amateurs driven to action by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, says Lebanese political analyst Kamel Wazne, and not that of an organized militant group. “If Hizballah decided to launch a war on Israel, well, Israel already knows what that looks like,” he says. (Hizballah has not commented on the attacks.)

On Wednesday July 16, the Lebanese military announced that it had apprehended two Palestinian brothers who had admitted to launching one of the attacks, as well as a Lebanese man who was implicated in the first rocket volley on Friday. Since the attacks started Friday, the Lebanese army has engaged in a concerted effort to prevent any further cross-border attacks by increasing patrols in the area and reaching out to the U.N. peacekeepers that have been in place in south Lebanon since the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah. Lebanon, including Hizballah, does not want to see another war with Israel, says Wazne. “There is a consensus in Lebanon that no missiles should be launched from Lebanese territory, and that these acts do not serve the Lebanese interest or the Palestinian cause.”

One of the three detained men appears to be affiliated with a radical Lebanese group, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya that has gained ground among Lebanese Sunni militants aligned with rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hizballah, in turn, backs Assad. The attackers, say Wazne, could have been motivated by a desire to deflect Israeli attention away from Gaza and towards Hizballah in an effort undermine the group’s support for Assad. Meanwhile Hamas, the Palestinian militant group battling Israel from Gaza, has also claimed responsibility for an attack from Lebanon, but it is not clear that it could have achieved such a feat, considering its limited presence on the ground.

All of which begs the question: why isn’t Hizballah getting involved in the Gaza conflict, which intensified on July 17 as Israel announced a ground invasion of the enclave? For a militant group whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, uses every opportunity to decry what he calls Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, Hizballah has been remarkably quiet since Israel launched its operation in Gaza a week ago. Hizballah’s standard rhetoric is that it is always ready for another confrontation with Israel, but it is just as likely that the militant group is keeping a low profile in order to better focus its efforts on Syria.

It’s not that Hizballah couldn’t handle two fronts at once, says Wazne, who has close contacts in Hizballah’s leadership. He believes the group is keeping a close eye on the events in Gaza, but as long as Israel does not attack Lebanon, it sees no need to get involved. The real risk, he cautions, is if Israel overreacts to the missiles being lobbed over the Lebanese border. Israel has met every incoming rocket with a barrage of its own into south Lebanon, but so far there has been no casualties or damages on either side. Lebanese Foreign Affairs minister Gebran Bassil threatened to lodge a complaint with the U.N. Security Council over Israel’s excessive response against Lebanon. “Someone is trying to use Lebanon as a launching pad to respond to Israel over events in Gaza. This is not the policy of the state, and it is taking measures against these sporadic groups.” he told reporters Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean Israel can attack Lebanon.”

If it does, notes Wazne, Hizballah will be ready.

TIME Israel

Israel Launches Ground Invasion of Gaza

Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014.
Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

After days of bombing and rocket attacks between Israel and Hamas

Updated 5:58 p.m. EST

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip Thursday along with heavy air bombardment, according to a statement on his Facebook page. Netanyahu’s statement indicates the purpose of the operation is to destroy “terror tunnels” linking Gaza and Israel.

“The Prime Minister and Minister of Defense instructed the [Israeli Defense Forces] to open this evening the ground operation to harm terror tunnels penetrating the Gaza Strip into Israel,” the post reads, translated from Hebrew. “Hamas terrorists used such a tunnel of terror early this morning to infiltrate Israel, with the purpose of carrying out mass attacks against Israeli civilians.”

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) also posted the news about “Operation Protective Edge” on its official Twitter account:

According to the posts, the intent is to destroy the tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza and thus strike a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.” Israel sent out warnings to Palestinians in Gaza telling them to evacuate target areas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A Hamas spokesperson told CNN that Israel “will pay a heavy price” for the operation. Hamas has responded with rockets from across Gaza city.

The latest wave of violence between Israel and Hamas began last month, after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and later found dead. Israel arrested dozens of members of Hamas who it suspects to be tied to the murders. A Palestinian youth was later found dead in an apparent revenge killing. Israeli authorities have arrested six Israelis in connection to the Palestinian’s death.

Thursday’s invasion comes after 10 days of conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza with rockets, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel. The fighting looked to be coming to a close several days ago, though Hamas rejected an Egyptian cease-fire plan soon after Israel accepted the terms. Hamas leaders said the plan was “not worth the ink it was written with” without more concessions from Israel.

The invasion is Israel’s first ground operation in the Gaza Strip since 2009′s “Operation Cast Lead.”

Thousands of Israeli soldiers have gathered at the border in the last few days waiting for the order to go in. Israel says the troops and tanks began to move just hours after Hamas militants attempted to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel but were stopped by the IDF, according to the Associated Press. Hamas said the men were on a reconnaissance mission and returned to Gaza unharmed.

TIME Israel

Israel Begins Gaza Ground Offensive

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hit the northern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014.
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hit the northern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military says it has launched a ground offensive in Gaza.

The army said in a statement late Thursday that after 10 days of Hamas attacks, it has “initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip.”

The army says the objective is to strike a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 17

1. Israel and Hamas have not only made do with each other’s existence, they have tried to figure out how to derive the maximum benefit from one another.

By Aaron David Miller in Foreign Policy

2. The current immigration crisis — and larger questions about reform — mean immigration is far from a political slam-dunk for the left.

By Nathan Pippinger in Democracy

3. What if Egypt isn’t ready for democracy?

By Sarah Eltantawi in the Immanent Frame

4. Affirmative Action should be adapted to accommodate structural racism and America’s modern segregation.

By Sheryll Cashin in the Root

5. Marriage isn’t the answer to poverty and focusing on single moms obscures the real problems.

By Carter Price in the New Republic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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