Anger over recent attack crosses political lines
JERUSALEM – As Palestinian militants tried to forge a tentative cease-fire agreement with Israel on Sunday, pressure was building on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to retaliate for the latest round of violence by launching a major military campaign in the Gaza Strip similar to the 22-day Operation Cast Lead in late 2008.
After visiting hospitalized Israelis who were injured by rocket attacks over the weekend, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel should take decisive military action to discourage future Palestinian strikes.
“The deterrence of Cast Lead has exhausted itself,” he said. “We’re not ruling out the possibility of a ground operation.”
Opposition lawmakers also urged Netanyahu to cripple the infrastructure of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. “You must use force against terrorism,” said opposition leader Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima Party was in power during Operation Cast Lead.
The renewed fighting began Thursday when gunmen infiltrated Israel and killed six civilians and two soldiers near Eilat. Since then, Israeli airstrikes against militants in Gaza, who were blamed by Israel for the initial attack, have killed more than two dozen people. Rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns have killed one person and wounded more than 20.
Hamas officials announced Sunday that they had crafted an agreement, with help from Egypt, to end the fighting. But it was unclear whether all Palestinian factions had accepted the pact and at least one group publicly rejected it, according to an Israeli media report. Hamas has had difficulty enforcing such cease-fires in the past.
A spokesman for the Israeli government declined to say whether it was engaged in cease-fire negotiations.
With more than 80 rockets fired into Israel from Gaza since Thursday, public pressure is rising for Netanyahu’s government to take action.
But some warned against another large-scale military campaign, saying Cast Lead failed to dislodge Hamas from power and instead led to a groundswell of international criticism over Israel’s use of deadly force. More than 1,200 Palestinians were killed in the operation.
“Sending ground forces into Gaza is pointless,” former Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna told Israel Radio. “It will not achieve our objectives and will only get the world against us.”
The recent diplomatic strain with Egypt’s interim government has narrowed Israel’s ability to launch another military campaign, analysts said.
In 2008, then-President Hosni Mubarak cooperated with Israel’s offensive by sealing off Egypt’s border. The move prevented Gaza residents from fleeing the violence, for which he was widely criticized by his own people and other Arab governments.
The new Egyptian government has established closer ties with Hamas while Cairo’s relations with Israel have deteriorated.