For the first time since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, a large number of ground forces have entered the Gaza Strip.

We are already seeing the tragic results. As of this writing, 18 of our soldiers have been killed and dozens more have been wounded in the fighting.

Hundreds of Palestinians – captives of Hamas’s self-destructive, violent Islamist extremism – have been killed in the fighting as well.

The risks involved with a ground invasion were wellknown from the outset. Since launching the operation two weeks ago, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has managed Protective Edge with caution and moderation, hoping to avoid exposing our soldiers to the risks that are inevitably involved with having boots on the ground in enemy territory. If quiet – no matter how fragile – could be achieved for the citizens of Israel by a series of air attacks and special, pinpoint missions, a larger scale operation could and should be avoided, reasoned Netanyahu.

In the face of hawkish opposition from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, and a large hunk of the Likud’s rank-and-file, Netanyahu maintained his moderate stance, honoring two cease-fires – both of which were broken by Hamas – and postponing as long as he could the launching of a ground invasion, which was approved in principle on Tuesday evening by the security cabinet.

But the rocket fire did not abate. In the days preceding Thursday night’s ground incursion, hundreds of rockets hit Beersheba, Dimona, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and even Haifa in the North. Four million Israelis experienced a daily routine of running to shelters, particularly those living close to Gaza. And yet Israel responded only by air strikes and agreed to an Egyptian initiative to establish a cease-fire.

Hamas not only kept up the barrage of rockets and mortar fire aimed at Israeli towns, cities, and settlements, the terrorist organization escalated the conflict. During another cease-fire arranged by the UN and honored by Israel for the sake of allowing Gaza’s residents to receive humanitarian aid, Hamas sent a group of terrorists through one of the many tunnels it has built over the years. The attack on Kibbutz Sufa could have ended in tragedy if not for the effectiveness of the IDF.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system provides Israeli citizens with a good defense against rockets. But the tunnel threat, which was widely known to exist and which had already been used in the abduction of Gilad Schalit, is being deployed again by Hamas to strike at Israeli towns and communities on the border with Gaza or at IDF soldiers positioned inside Israel. Hamas, which apparently interpreted Israel’s restraint as weakness, gave Netanyahu no other choice.

The goal of the ground operation – which incorporates tanks, artillery, drones, special tunnel detection equipment, and massive air and naval cover – is to reinstate the security of Israelis living on the border with Gaza by exposing the tunnels and destroying them, which is possible only on the ground. Because at this stage Israel has no intention of expanding the campaign to Gaza City, one of the most densely populated places on Earth and where both Israeli soldiers and Gazan civilians would be exposed to enormous risks, the present operation cannot hope to completely neutralize Hamas’s threat to Israel.

Israel hopes to restore a level of deterrence while seriously damaging Hamas’s system of tunnels, at least those closest to the border with Israel. Admittedly, Israel’s objectives are modest – a return to a tense status quo in which Israelis are able to live their lives without being under the constant threat of rocket fire or being whisked away into Gaza via a tunnel to be used as a bargaining chip for the release of murderous Hamas terrorists being held in Israeli prisons.

Unfortunately, the price Israel is being forced to pay is exorbitantly high – the lives of some our very best men.

Nevertheless, this is an eminently just war that pits Israel, a country that values life, intellectual and artistic freedom, and innovation against Hamas, a terrorist organization that glorifies death, exalts violence, and demands of its followers submission and self-abnegation, all in the name of irrational, reactionary religious fanaticism.

History has proven that totalitarian regimes like Hamas’s are ultimately self-destructive, while the forces of freedom have an inner resilience that make them indomitable. It is a tragedy that so many good people must give their lives before such evil is eradicated.

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