Analysis: To invade or not to invade Gaza?

The plans have been drawn up and the troops are ready. All that is missing is the green light from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and hundreds, if not thousands, of IDF soldiers will pour into the Gaza Strip in a massive invasion aimed at breaking the back of the Hamas military wing. For now, however, the government is pursuing the diplomatic track, as can be seen by the recent embracing of the Saudi peace initiative by Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as Sunday's meeting between the prime minister and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The last thing that appears to be on the agenda right now is a massive operation in Gaza. But if nothing is done, the equation is clear. In 2006, 30 tons of high-grade explosives were smuggled from Sinai into Gaza, advanced anti-tank missiles have made their way to terrorist hands in addition to a number of anti-aircraft missiles. Hamas is building up an army with brigades and battalions and the fear in the defense establishment is that without an operation, Israel will have allowed for the "Lebanonization" of the Gaza Strip and will be facing a force almost as formidable as Hizbullah. This is why the IDF is preparing. On the one hand, Israel is giving a chance to the cease-fire and waiting to see what will come of the Mecca agreement. But on the other hand, Olmert has told Abbas that Israel will not wait forever and if he does not succeed in reining in the terror, than Israel will have to do it for him. The Palestinians have an interest in keeping things quiet for the time being in the Gaza Strip. The Mecca agreement was the result of internal factional and political unrest in Gaza and Hamas's and Fatah's desire to end the violence, during which close to 400 people were killed in recent months. While the street fighting has ceased, according to Military Intelligence it is far from disappearing. "The streets of Gaza might be quiet today but they are capable of flaring up within seconds," claimed a high-ranking officer in the IDF Southern Command. According to Gaza observers, an unprecedented process of Islamization is taking over the Palestinian territory. Video stores and Internet cafes are being burned down by Hamas militants and over the weekend masked men stormed beauty parlors and threw black paint on posters of women and their stylish hairdos. Joining the fray are the hamulot - the Palestinian clans - that lost family members during the internal clashes and are waiting to take revenge. They do not necessarily belong to either Hamas or Fatah but they have an open account with the gunmen that killed their loved ones and plan to close it. On Saturday night a Hamas operative was killed in Beit Hanoun in a Hamula-planned attack. While Hamas and Fatah might be interested in quiet for now, these clans and their thirst for revenge could, defense officials claim, return unrest to the streets of Gaza and inevitably create an upsurge in terror activity against Israel.