Visiting Ashkelon today, within reach of Hamas’ rockets, we could see– from the Ashkelon marina–the buildings of Gaza city, and hear the explosions of the Israeli air force’s attacks. Ashkelon is a ghost town, schools and most businesses were shut and most people who could leave have (we went to give food to many new immigrants staying, and to give a ride out to a few.) It’s mostly Russian and Ethiopian, and fairly poor, although fairly nice with great beaches (and some atrociously ugly Bauhaus concrete architecture).
I feel– and agree with many of my militarily connected friends– that without a ground operation, this war will not accomplish anything. No air campaign has ever succeeded in disarming or forcing an enemy to do anything. The rockets will continue until a far more effective infantry invasion of Gaza sufficiently disrupts and disarms Hamas. It IS doable– Gaza’s not terribly defensible, and Hamas is nowhere near as well trained or armed or disciplined as Hezbollah. Also Israel has far better intelligence and surveillance (witness the extremely high percentage of actual Hamas fighters killed in the bombings so far– close to 90%.)
But it IS urban warfare if we go in, and there will be booby traps and the like. And the bigger question is– then what? Whether the IDF simply damages Hamas enough to force a cease fire on our terms, or totally re-occupies, there needs to be a solid exit strategy. Many diplomats– and Egypt, oddly– are pushing for the (allegedly moderate, but at least secular and pragmatic) Palestinian Authority and Fatah to reassert their rule there. The PA’s weakness and lack of credibility among Gazans makes this unlikely to work, as well as the fact that circumstances would make them seem like Israeli stooges. Indeed, even if linked with a highway or corridor with the West Bank, Gaza would always remain a crowded and impoverished corner of a semistate even in the most generous conceivable future ‘Palestine’ Israel could ever offer.
Once a heresy among Israelis, another option is starting to come up: restore Gaza to Egyptian rule. I think this holds the most hope of a solid future– the Palestinians already have 100% of Gaza and would rather shoot rockets and kill and die than build civil society. Merging with Egypt would connect them to a more-than-viable state and citizenship and economy. Egypt has the state structure to effectively rule (and crush jihadist Islamism), and has a history of ruling Gaza. Rather than maintaining Gazans on the world’s dole, welfare children who can’t and won’t help themselves, UN and Arab-oil generosity could help Gazans integrate into the Egyptian economy, which as a key point of world trade (Suez, the Nile) and as the biggest Arab economy, has genuine possibility of growth.
I’d even condone Egypt invading to ‘liberate’ Gaza from Israeli occupation, if it could be coordinated. It could still be done it a way which might salve Arab pride.
All the other options will certainly result in continuing strife, continuing dead ends for Gazans, and more dead Israelis. This at least holds out hope of a better future.