Analysis: How to strike back without entering Cast Lead II

The fact that the PRC was behind the attacks is another demonstration of how Hamas is continuing to lose control over the Gaza Strip.

Rocket launchers Gaza hospital 311 (photo credit: Malam)
Rocket launchers Gaza hospital 311
(photo credit: Malam)
For Israel, there is no question that Hamas was involved, in one way or another, in Thursday’s terrorist attacks from Sinai that killed eight Israelis.
While the perpetrators belonged to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), according to Israel, the smaller terrorist group is closely affiliated with Hamas and in the past heeded its requests to hold its rocket fire.RELATED:Abbas calls on UNSC to 'halt Israeli aggression'Police beef up forces, call on public to be vigilant
The fact that the PRC was behind the attacks on Thursday is another demonstration of how Hamas is losing control over the Gaza Strip as a growing number of terrorist groups – some affiliated with al-Qaida and global jihad elements – reject its authority and believe now is the time to begin escalating the front with Israel.
At the same time, though, the IDF does not believe the PRC could have carried out such a sophisticated attack – which included a number of cells and close to two dozen heavily armed operatives – without Hamas knowing, atleast to some extent. For that reason, Israel ultimately holds Hamas responsible for the attack and the continued rocket fire into Israel.
On the other hand, Israel also does not want a large military operation in Gaza at the moment. With two weeks left to the beginning of the school year, the government would prefer to end the current cycle in a way that will allow firstgraders from the South to go to school on September 1, and not have to stay home in bomb shelters.
This is, however, not simple to achieve from an operational standpoint.
On the one hand, Israel wants to retaliate for the attacks on Thursday and the continued rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, to restore its deterrence and ensure Hamas, the PRC, Islamic Jihad and other groups know they will pay a price for their attacks. On the other hand, though, it wants to do so in a way that will not lead to a larger conflict.
On Friday, the IDF already turned things up a notch when it attacked a number of static targets in Gaza in the middle of the day, for the first time, one IDF officer said, since Operation Cast Lead two-and-a-half years ago. IDF responses to rocket attacks almost always come at night, and attacks during the day are usually against moving targets, such as rocket cells or terrorists the army has intelligence on and knows are on their way to an imminent attack.
The IDF’s options vary depending on developments on the ground. On the one hand, it could expand its air strikes and begin attacking dozens of targets and manned outposts throughout the Gaza Strip, something that would likely draw an escalation in the rocket fire.
It could also send ground troops into Gaza in small, isolated operations, for example isolating parts of northern Gaza, with the objective of drawing out terrorists and sending a message Israel will not hesitate to enter the Strip by land and to expand that operation if the rocket fire does not stop.
Either way, the goal will likely be to end the new cycle of violence within the coming days, to restore a level of deterrence and to stave off a larger conflict to another day.
At the same time as the fighting continued along the Gaza border, the IDF was contemplating the new reality it faces along the border with Egypt. While there is hope that the Egyptian military will make a greater effort to prevent attacks from its soil, the IDF will need to make some operational changes.
First, the Southern Command understands it was a mistake to open Road 12 last Thursday morning. The road, which connects Mitzpe Ramon with Eilat, runs directly along the border and cars traveling on it were targeted by the terrorists.
The road had been closed the night before, as well as on previous nights in the days leading up to the attack, but the IDF decided to open it to prevent the negative affects on civilians who use the road.
Israel might, however, also need to bend the Camp David peace treaty a little more and allow the Egyptians to deploy more troops in the Sinai Peninsula, to give them a viable chance to restore order there and prevent future attacks.
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