Israel is about to launch Phase III of Operation Cast Lead – the capture of Gaza City. Electoral considerations almost certainly predict that Israel will attempt to topple Hamas and re-occupy Gaza, until Hamas’ rival Fatah can re-establish control on the ground. The Third Palestinian Intifada may be in the offing.
Israeli ground forces have begun entering the residential suburbs of Gaza City, a prelude to Phase III of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead”: the capture of Gaza’s capital city. Sources within the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have intimated, in leaked accounts, that the army is ready to invade and occupy Gaza City as soon as the government so orders – such an order would be Phase III, (after the first two phases – aerial assault and ground incursions) of the Israeli military attack on Gaza.
However, sources intimate with the Israeli cabinet deliberations have indicated that while most of the cabinet favours an immediate escalation to Phase III, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister (Prime Minister designate) Tipzi Livni favour a cautious approach, lest the casualty count amongst Israeli soldiers begin to replicate losses suffered in the 2006 Israeli-Lebanon war, prompting a backlash amongst the Israeli electorate.
Nonetheless, Barak’s hesitation is surprising, since sources within the IDF have now leaked the information that Barak had initiated planning for Operation Cast Lead six months earlier, while the Israeli government was negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas.
The news casts further doubt on Israel’s claim that Hamas triggered the current conflict – it appears now that, at the very least, both sides were utilizing the truce to prepare for the next outbreak of hostilities. Further, the news no doubt casts aspersions on Israel’s commitment to future proposed ceasefires.
And such proposals have continued unabated.
Recently, after first blocking a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire last week (permitting Israel to initiate Phase II, at the time), the United States abstained from the most recent vote for an immediate ceasefire, which passed the Security Council 14-0.
Yet, both sides have simply ignored the resolution.
But, why would Hamas resist calls for a ceasefire, considering the disproportionate losses the Palestinians have suffered? Because Hamas expects to inflict severe casualties on the invading Israeli forces as they enter the urban warfare setting of Gaza City.
They may not have to wait too long – former Israeli generals have already begun demanding the Israeli government initiate Phase III immediately.
And Defence Minister Ehud Barak may have little choice but to acquiesce.
His dovish Labor Party, woefully out of step with the current Israeli electorate’s pro-war mood, has pulled off a remarkable bounce in the polls since the beginning of the war. Now, leftist parties, including those in the current Kadima-Labor coalition government, are polling evenly with more hawkish parties, such as former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
Barak now has to decide whether to push forward and risk increased casualties amongst Israeli soldiers, or pull back and risk allegations from the opposition that he failed to finish the war with victory.
Expect Barak to choose Phase III.
And, soon thereafter, expect Phase IV (actively toppling Hamas) and Phase V (re-occupation of Gaza, until Fatah can re-establish control).
And, if that comes to pass, we may be on the eve of the Third Intifada.
Manjit Singh is a contributor to Geopoliticalmonitor.com