Analysis: In order to go in, we need a way out

The large-scale Gaza op will aim to destroy Hamas terror infrastructure and reoccupy Philadelphi.

IDF drill wicked 224.88 (photo credit: IDF)
IDF drill wicked 224.88
(photo credit: IDF)
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, despite a number of requests, Defense Minister Ehud Barak refused to disclose operational details about what he has consistently referred to as the inevitable large-scale ground operation into the Gaza Strip. Barak was right in doing so, especially when considering the fact that almost everything said in the cabinet room makes its way into the next day's newspapers. While little has yet to be publicized about the operation, what can be said at this point is that it will be unprecedented in size and will also be a practical expression of one of the IDF's primary lessons from the Second Lebanon War - not to over-rely on the Air Force. This time around, the ground forces will be activated from day one. There are several reasons why the operation has yet to be launched. From a tactical point of view, it is wintertime and when there are clouds in the skies it is difficult to get the max out of the IAF's fighter jets, attack helicopters and reconnaissance drones. Gilad Schalit is another factor for holding off on the operation which, if launched, could postpone his release indefinitely. The operation into Gaza will have two primary goals: First and foremost to significantly weaken Hamas by destroying its terrorist infrastructure and removing it from governmental power. The second goal - which has proven more urgent in recent weeks with the collapse of the Gaza-Egypt border wall - calls for reoccupying the Philadelphi Corridor, sealing it off and preventing the smuggling of weapons or terrorists into the Gaza Strip. The operation will most likely entail the call-up of thousands of reservists, mainly to replace infantry and armored brigades that will be sent to Gaza from routine operations they are conducting in the West Bank and along the northern border. The Golani Brigade is currently in Gaza and has been behind the deaths of more than 200 gunmen in the past few months. The operation will include a number of brigades, and troops will be assigned a variety of missions, first and foremost among them being the retaking of the Philadelphi Corridor to seal the border and uncover smuggling tunnels, as well as preventing the launching of Kassam rockets into Sderot and the rest of the western Negev. The idea will be to slice up the Gaza Strip into several sections and to begin cleansing them of terrorists and terror infrastructure. This, however, will not be an easy task, since Hamas has had more than two and a half years - since Israel's unilateral withdrawal in 2006 - to build up its military and prepare for D-Day. Israel will not be able to immediately stop the Kassam rocket fire. While only a handful of rockets have been fired in recent days, it has nothing to do with IDF operations but rather is proof of Hamas's ability to turn on and off the rocket fire whenever it wants to. While the operational plans have been drafted - battalion commanders already know where they will be deployed and what their missions will be - from a strategic point of view, the IDF, Foreign Ministry or anyone else for that matter has yet to come up with the operation's "end strategy." As one top officer recently pointed out, "I know how we get in, but I don't yet know how we get out." For this reason, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been pushing the idea in recent weeks of a multinational force in Gaza, although the chances of this happening are not very realistic. The other option is to hope that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will come in and fill the vacuum that will be created by the operation. Considering his weak stature, this option is also highly unlikely. What is certain is that the IDF has no intention of staying inside Gaza for an undefined period of time. The Winograd Committee harshly criticized the government and the military for not planning an end strategy when deciding on July 12 to retaliate to Hizbullah's abduction earlier that day of reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Without a clear way out, Israel is not yet running into Gaza.