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Can Israel Win In Gaza?

I wrote a couple of posts over the weekend that mostly dealt with the morality of Israel's incursion into Gaza, which I think is beyond question. The wisdom, on the other hand, is very much open to doubt. The Washington Post had a good news analysis yesterday making the case against:

Over the past four years, Israel has sought to block the Palestinians from using some of their most devastating, close-range tactics: suicide bombings and small arms in guerrilla-style strikes. Those kinds of attacks were favored by Palestinians during the second intifada, or uprising, earlier this decade, and were effective in killing Israelis. But they are much more difficult to pull off today. ...

Flying high over Gaza with sophisticated missile-evasion technology at their fingertips, Israeli airmen are largely out of range of Hamas attacks; not so for the soldiers, who could find themselves fighting Hamas block to block through Gaza's densely packed cities.

"The technological advantage we have is more demonstrable in the air. Not so much on the ground," Ben-Israel said.

Some analysts said that a ground invasion was not necessary if the goal is to destroy Hamas's military capabilities. Israeli airstrikes have destroyed tunnels used to funnel weapons and supplies, and demolished the houses and offices of Hamas leaders, killing two senior officials.

"The war in Kosovo was won from the air," said Hirsh Goodman, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a journalist for many years. "Here, Hamas has got nowhere to go and nowhere to get supplies from. They're firing whatever they can, but they've shot their wad.

Bottom line: A ground assault looks like it will bring marginally greater benefits but massively higher costs.

One thing that gives me hesitate to embrace this conclusion too strongly is, actually, the 2006 Lebanon war. That example is being cited as a cautionary tale, included by the above Post analysis. But I think the war was less than a total fiasco.Hezbollah has stopped firing rockets into northern Israeli cities, which was a primary goal of the invasion. It's true that Hezbollah gained political capital and a place in Lebanon's government. But that, too, has benefits. Before 2006, Hezbollah could strike Israel from Lebanon, and the Lebanese government had no accountability. Now, if Hezbollah fires rockets, those rockets will have a return address. Obviously this conclusion is subject to revision pending future events.

--Jonathan Chait