By: Meir Javedanfar
Accepting the French plan to start a 48 hour ceasefire would be a tactical victory for Israel, for a number of reasons.
The ceasefire would be used as an ultimatum as well as a face saving option for Hamas to accept a permanent ceasefire. If Hamas does not accept, international backing and understanding for Israel’s actions would increase. This would provide the Israeli Defense Forces with more justification for its actions. In the post 2003 Iraq invasion world order, international backing and credibility is as important, if not more, than the operational radius and weapons load of F-16 fighter jets.
However if Hamas does accept the ceasefire, it would provide both parties with a win-win situation. Israel could say that its military operation achieved its objective, while Hamas could say it did not sign any agreement under fire.
A ground operation in Gaza will be a difficult operation, not just militarily, but also politically.
From the military point of view, judging by the Jenin battles of 2002, one can assume that Hamas has booby trapped houses and road leading into Gaza, and is prepared to use its population as human shield. This could cause heavy casualties for Israel and Palestinian civilians. Israel would also allow Hamas to use the opportunity to create a PR disaster for Israel, just as Arafat tried with the false claim that there had been a massacre in Jenin.
Politically it will be even more difficult. It is accepted across the board in Jerusalem that Israel does not want to reoccupy Gaza for a long period or even permanently. This is why Israel withdrew in 2006.
However once a ground invasion is launched, Israel will become hostage to Hamas’s willingness to accept a ceasefire. Under this scenario, as long as Hamas refuses to accept a ceasefire, Israel would have to stay in Gaza. This would mean that Israel could again become stuck in a long drawn out guerrilla warfare. It would also have to look after Gaza’s 1.5 million population. There would always be the option of unilateral withdrawal. However this would provide Hamas with a political victory.