After the expiration of a "truce" with Hamas, terror groups in Gaza pounded the Israeli south with rocket attacks. The Israeli government has responded forcefully, with waves of air strikes targeting Hamas's security infrastructure. More than 280 Palestinians, mostly Hamas members, have been killed in strikes on more than 100 security compounds. Hamas's security chief and several other senior leaders were killed in the attacks.
Hamas has vowed to attack Israel with suicide bombers and other means. More than 80 rockets have been launched into the Negev despite the Israeli air offensive.
Within 24 hours of the assault, Israel already appears to be over relying on air power and avoiding the more difficult task of conducting a ground assault. Per Reuters:
Israeli military affairs commentators said the Israeli offensive did not appear to be aimed at retaking the Gaza Strip or destroying the territory's Hamas government -- ambitious goals that could prove difficult and politically risky to achieve ahead of Israel's February 10 parliamentary election.
Instead, they said, Israel -- after an air bombardment on Saturday -- wanted to strengthen its deterrence power and force Hamas into a new truce that would lead to a long-term halt to cross-border rocket salvoes.
Israel essentially followed the same failed strategy in Lebanon against Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. After two soldiers were captured by Hezbollah forces in a cross-border raid into northern Israel, the Olmert government launched an air campaign, convinced it could degrade and destroy Hezbollah's rockets in Beirut and the South, take out Hezbollah's leadership, and force them to release the soldiers.
The Israeli offensive is widely recognized as a strategic failure. Israel was always constrained by time; they could not indefinitely conduct operations inside Lebanon without serious international implications. The Olmert government's failure to act quickly and decisively allowed Hezbollah to maintain the initiative.
Hezbollah launched thousands of rockets into northern Israel, despite a blanket of air cover by the Israeli Air Force. The Israeli Defense Forces cautiously entered southern Lebanon only after it became apparent that the air campaign could only achieve limited results, and by then it was too late as the operation was winding down. The Israeli military never meaningfully pursued Hezbollah's infrastructure in the Bekaa Valley.
The Israeli-Hezbollah War left Hezbollah standing, stronger than ever. They stood up to Israel as no Arab regime has, and survived. Within two years, Hezbollah has become a part of the Lebanese government.
The Olmert government faces tough choices. There is little support for the reoccupation of Gaza, which is the only way Israel can ensure the rocket attacks will cease. The government cannot countenance the continuous rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians in the South. But one thing is clear: If the Olmert government fails to act decisively against Hamas in Gaza, it should expect results similar to those obtained in Lebanon.