A ground operation has begun, spurred by the penetration into Israel of 13 Hamas fighters from a tunnel dug under the border, which followed several days of media discussion about the danger to Israel of numerous tunnels that have defied years of efforts to locate them before they are used.
The timing of Israel''s ground attack may also have been helped by the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. For Israel, this offered the prospect of the world''s media shifting from civilian deaths in Gaza to passenger deaths in Ukraine, and the folly of flying over a war zone with unpredictable fighters, some of whom were bound to have their hands on sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles. We know of at least one American newscaster who was moved immediately after the disaster from Jerusalem to Kiev.
Vladimir Putin, the President of the country that most likely supplied the missile, is trying to reverse the flow of attention by joining with the Iranian President and calling for an end to the operation in Gaza, then a renewed peace process.
Israel''s ground attack will add to the deaths, at least partly due to the efforts of Hamas to keep civilians in the way.
Yet another spur to the ground action was the failure of several cease fire initiatives, and a continued rain on Israel of Gazan missiles that had not been dampened by more than a week of attacks from the air.
One of the barriers to a cease fire has been competition among the peace makers, with enmities between Turkey and Qatar against Egypt well established in other arenas of Arab politics getting in the way of formulating something that Hamas would accept. The Prime Minister of Turkey has described the Egyptian President as a dictator working with Israel against Hamas.
Also important is a lack of rapport among various elements of Hamas and other Islamic groups, plus family-centered militias, all of which have obtained munitions from one source or another.
We hear is that John Kerry invited himself to Egypt in order to announce with his great voice the onset of a cease fire and opportunities for the renewal of a peace process, but Egyptians told him to stay away.
Within the Hamas grouping have been disputes between overseas and Gazan cadres claiming leadership, as well as a lack of rapport within Gaza between Hamas'' political leadership and its military commanders.
The cultural boundaries between us and the Palestinians are profound. We share the Hebrew language with most Arabs of Israel and many Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza who have worked in Israel (or served time in its prisons). Numerous Israeli Jews are fluent in Arabic due to family backgrounds or schooling. Arabs share university classes with Jews. Professionals and technicians of the two communities work together. There are numerous friendships. Yet there are important traits of Arab culture, and especially the dominant Muslim ingredient, that get in the way of understanding and accommodation. In the case of Islamic extremists/fanatics, there is little hope of reasonable discourse.
It is tempting to approach the borders of the politically correct and think about the forces of light against those of darkness. While Israel makes an effort to warn civilians of impending attacks and invests heavily in the defense of its own population, Hamas hides its fighters in bunkers and pressures civilians--including women and children--to mass themselves around military targets as their primary means of defense.
Hamas fighters are moving from place to place in ambulances, accompanied by children.
Jews raise their glasses to life. לחיים. Muslim children aspire to become martyrs.
The contrast recalls Roman efforts to guard its civilization against those called barbarians, whose eventual ascendance brought Europe to the Dark Ages. There are some, but not enough Europeans, who view Israel as a barrier against another Dark Age, which looms in connection to porous borders and substantial migration from Muslim areas.
Not all Muslims are fanatics, and even the fanatics vary in their fanaticism. Some see hope in Iran''s efforts against ISIS. Before we grant Iran entrance to the league of the enlightened, however, we should inquire a bit more to see if its efforts against ISIS are simply a matter of Shiites opposing Sunnis.
Labeling one''s enemies as barbarians is not only the epitome of the politically incorrect, but it flies against the worthies of BBC, CNN, and a host of NGOs wrapping themselves in the coverings of the humane who focus on Israel''s killing of civilians.
Israel''s response is that the Palestinians are assiduous in keeping civilians on the battlefield, and delight in the carnage that they turn to media advantage.
That left wing Jews participate in screeds against Israel complicates the accusation of anti-Semitism. However, that label retains justification in the refusal of anti-Israel media to balance their reports about Palestinian casualties with inquiries into the exploitation of civilians by Hamas or by Gaza''s bombardment of Israeli cities.
This operation, which may escalate in coming days to the official designation of a war, illustrates how violence can spiral out of control. There were months of exchanging limited barrages that did relatively little damage, and may have been directed away from populated centers in order to make noise and score only symbolic points. Then exchanges became serious after the kidnapping and killing of yeshiva students and the killing of an Arab by Jewish extremists. After nine days of missile attacks and air force reprisals, the IDF sent in the troops and the tanks. The officials announcement described a limited operation meant to neutralize the tunnels and other munitions, but some were talking about the impossibility of reaching a cease fire until Israel established its control over all of Gaza, with who knows what cost in the deaths of Israeli soldiers and Gazan civilians.