Israel made one tactical mistake in its limited war with Hizbollah in 2006 which it repeated in 2009 with Hamas. It let intense rocket fire on Israeli cities dictate a longer than necessary timetable for war.
In both cases this increased Israel’s diplomatic isolation while providing diminishing returns on military action. It also lessened the shock effect of dramatic opening moves in both conflicts.
And by placing major population centres under attack for an extended period while appearing unable to counteract it, Israel weakened its long-term deterrence.
The operation which began on Wednesday with the killing of Ahmed Jabari opened nearly as dramatically as the previous two conflicts, with an effective, surprising shock attack. This time, though, Israel’s leaders will resist being dragged into a longer escalation.
But if a rocket falls on a kindergarten or an old age home, or if a daring operation goes awry and soldiers are killed or kidnapped, the shock effect will be erased and the desire to push back even harder will be difficult to resist.
Once this round of fighting is done, Israel — and, for that matter, the entire international community — will need to have a serious think about the status of Gaza as a separate entity within the Palestinian state-to-be.
This was a status that emerged, largely unintentionally, following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the Palestinian elections in 2006, and the Hamas takeover.
Nobody on any side ever held separate governments for the two territories as a political desideratum before it happened in 2007. But everyone, it seems, has been committed to maintaining it since.
The ability of Israel or donor nations to influence internal Palestinian politics is limited. But the determination with which all outside parties seek to perpetuate the status quo cannot be counted on to last forever.
Shany Mor is senior research
associate at Bicom and formerly director for foreign policy at the Israeli National Security Council