Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently issued orders to the commanders of his army to prepare to launch a large-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip, but with “self-restraint and calmness – without recklessness.” We can draw two conclusions from these statements: first, that the Israeli political and military leadership has become convinced that military action is necessary in the Gaza Strip; and second, that Israel wants to prepare carefully for this invasion, in order to avoid a defeat similar to its defeat in Lebanon in 2006.

But Israeli government sources have leaked information revealing that the true aim of this military assault will be three-fold: stopping the flow of smuggled weapons through the Egyptian-Palestinian border; ending the firing of homemade shells from the Gaza Strip across the border into Israel; and third, eliminating the Hamas movement or at least “politically neutralizing the movement”.

But the question which we have to ask is; “Is it true that the situation in Gaza has reached a level where a military offensive is needed that would sufficiently justify the human losses of both Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers that would surely result from such an invasion?”

As far as the Israelis are concerned, the situation in Gaza could be described as worrisome and comfortable at the same time. It is worrisome to the Israeli government, as Israeli civilians in the town near the Gaza border are demanding an end to the homemade shells.

The people in this town get scared when shells are fired, and their lives become irregular, which places pressure on the government in Jerusalem and the Israeli decision makers, who are constantly facing demands to “end this suffering” by launching a huge offensive against Gaza instead of the so-called ‘limited operations’ that Israel continually carries out against Gaza on a daily basis.

The second issue, and what is keeping Israel comfortable, is the division of the Palestinian people, both geographically and politically, into two separate parts – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel is thus using the recent election of the Hamas party by the Palestinian people to achieve the division of the Palestinian people that four decades of Israeli occupation failed to achieve.

I believe that Israel in very much interested in maintaining and exacerbating the divisions among the Palestinians, as such divisions render impossible the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967.

If the situation is as I’ve described, can we expect that Israel will carry a large-scale offensive, as Israeli politicians and military leaders continue to threaten? I don’t believe so, because the results of such a scenario are unrealistic and discomforting to Israel.

There are three potential scenarios: the first is that the Israel army will invade the Gaza Strip and eliminate the infrastructure of the resistance, then quickly withdraw. This scenario would satisfy the Israeli public and ease the rage of the people against their government.

It might also bring back some of the “might” of the Israeli army especially after this “might” was smeared during the Lebanon war. Such a scenario could eliminate the Palestinian resistance temporarily, but the Palestinian resistance fighters would lick their wounds and soon be back on the battle field.

Second, Israeli forces could conduct a military invasion into Gaza and a subsequent re-occupation of the Strip in order to eliminate the resistance. This would require international and American support, and I believe that this would not be easy. One of the issues that would stop Israel from reoccupying Gaza is that Israel would then be responsible for the population of 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel is not anxious to return to the quagmire of Gaza. Also, direct occupation makes it easier for the resistance to fight against the army.

Third, Israeli forces could invade Gaza and remain in Gaza until an agreement is reached with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. But this is a contradictory issue, as no one in the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah wants to be viewed as the leader who returned to Gaza riding on the back of an Israeli tank.

Based on what I have outlined here, I believe that the Israeli statements and threats of a large-scale military offensive will not reach the level of implementation. I believe that Israel will continue its limited operations, which target Palestinian resistance fighters through extrajudicial assassinations, and will resort to targeting Hamas political leaders. This will satisfy the political and military leadership in Israel, and might silence the anger in the Israeli street.