After three days of fighting in Gaza, we can draw a few key conclusions.
First, Israel is in a hurry. Given President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign promise to engage Iran and Syria, Israel correctly recognized that future large-scale operations against Hamas would likely face American resistance. Unlike during its 2006 Lebanon war – when Israel requested (and received) an open-ended timetable from the Bush administration for “destroying” Hezbollah – Israel is pushing to conclude this conflict as soon as possible. Ideally, Jerusalem would like to be deep in the diplomatic game – i.e., negotiating a new status quo for Gaza – by January 20th.
Second, Israel has learned from its greatest tactical mistake during the 2006 war, when it declined to mobilize its reserves and plan for a ground invasion until the very end. In the current Gaza conflict, Israel called up 6,500 reservists by the second day of fighting, and has stationed them on the Gaza border. At the moment, Israel has not launched a ground invasion – but the threat is credible; the pressure on Hamas has been tightened; and Israel has given itself decent options that can be mobilized immediately, as necessary.
Third, Hamas – much like Hezbollah in 2006 – entirely failed to anticipate the scope of Israel’s response to its recent behavior. As David Hazony noted, Hamas put so little faith in Israel’s repeated threats that it held a graduation ceremony for its newest police force recruits – a perfect target for Israel, which killed at least 70 militants (about 25% of the total Palestinian battle deaths) in that strike alone.
All of these factors should point to a quick Israeli victory. There is, however, one major complication: Israel has yet to declare the long-term goals of its Gaza operation – and, in turn, has not defined “victory.”