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Two-and-a-half weeks into Operation Cast Lead, and the IDF is behaving as if it has all the time in the world left to achieve its goal of weakening Hamas and restoring Israel's deterrence.
Since the beginning of the operation, the IDF has bombed over 2,000 targets throughout Gaza, including over 200 tunnels, close to 200 weapons storehouses and dozens of government offices, military outposts and training camps. The largest number of strikes - 1,017 - were on "targets of opportunity" - targets identified during the operations.
In the three-and-a-half years that have passed between Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and this operation, the IDF warned over and over again of the Hamas military buildup in Gaza. The Israeli public was told of advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles, like the ones that wreaked havoc on Israeli armor in Lebanon, and of shoulder-to-air missiles that would impair the IAF's ability to fly over Gaza.
The public was told of sophisticated roadside bombs that Hamas had assembled with Iranian guidance, made with high-grade explosives smuggled into Gaza through the Philadelphi Corridor. The public was told of an organized Hamas military with brigades, battalions and even special forces.
But while the ground operation continued and even expanded on Monday, the IDF had still not encountered the fierce resistance it had anticipated. One top officer who is in the Gaza Strip told reporters that his tanks had crossed the entire Strip and split it in half in a matter of several hours. The crossing was initially expected to take at least a day.
So the question needs to be asked: Did the IDF sow fear among the public for no reason?
The IDF does not believe so. At the moment, it explains, the forces inside Gaza have mostly been deployed on the periphery of the densely populated areas and are only now beginning to venture deeper into the urban centers. The neighborhood of al-Atatra, where one brigade spent the past week, is not the Shati refugee camp.
There are several reasons why this is happening. First, the IDF believes that Hamas fighters are holed up deeper inside the urban centers and that is where they have built up their resistance. The belief is that when the IDF moves deeper inside, the fighting will pick up.
The main reason this hasn't yet happened and the IDF has moved slowly is because the goal of the operation is not to reach downtown Gaza City, but remains the same as it was since the beginning of the war - to restore Israel's level of deterrence by weakening Hamas and making the terror group realize that it is not in its own interest to fire rockets into Israel. This is rare, since in most traditional wars the objective is to conquer territory.
Also, the IDF does not believe that Hamas is on the verge of collapse. Yes, the group has been seriously weakened, but the assumption in the IDF is that the group can continue to survive at its current level for several months. There have been terror and guerrilla groups that have survived against conventional militaries for even longer.
For this reason, the IDF does not believe that it has achieved its goal and is therefore pushing deeper into Gaza.
When it will reach its goal? The IDF foresees two scenarios: one, that Egypt brokers a cease-fire with Hamas and Hamas decides to stop fighting; or two, a tactical success on the ground that weakens Hamas so severely that it can no longer fight.