Israel Sends Reserves Into Gaza Amid Escalation Fears

Israel's leaders are divided, but some in the military favor an incursion into the dense urban centers.

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By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

The war in Gaza has cost some 900 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives so far. A U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire (passed 14 to 0, with the United States abstaining) was rejected by both Hamas and Israel. Israel's leadership "troika"—Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni—is divided on what to do next.

Olmert, backed by military leaders, favors a ground invasion of Gaza's urban centers and refugee camps to further cripple Hamas's fighting ability. Barak opposes such an invasion, preferring a cease-fire, while Livni favors an immediate, unilateral withdrawal that would leave Israel free to punish Hamas in the future. The mobilization of Israeli reserve soldiers in Gaza, along with the views of Army leaders and Olmert, seems to point to an invasion of Gaza City and the refugee camps. Al Jazeera reports on the reservists' entry into the fighting:

The move appeared to be in preparation for the so-called third stage of Israel's offensive: moving troops into the towns and cities of Gaza to fight door-to-door.

The deployment came amid some of the most intense fighting since the ground offensive began on January 3, with Palestinian fighters putting up stiff resistance to the Israeli advance into Gaza City.

Ron Ben-Yishai, an influential military affairs commentator for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, argues Israel must invade Gaza City and the refugee camps to pressure Hamas and world diplomats into forging a cease-fire more on Israel's terms. These include a Hamas pledge to cease rocket fire, a mechanism for stopping weapons smuggling from Sinai to Gaza, and the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier captured in 2006. (Hamas's key unmet demand is for a lifting of Israel's 18-month siege on Gaza.) Ben-Yishai writes:

The current state of affairs requires Israel to adopt a military move that is not necessarily a takeover of the Strip, yet still terminates the dead-end on the ground and on the diplomatic front. The ministers will have to take a difficult decision, because expanding the military operation will involve paying a price on our part, in terms of casualties and in respect to international criticism and possibly isolation.

Meanwhile, the liberal daily Ha'aretz warns that the price of sending reserve soldiers into Gaza's refugee camps will be high:

Whoever introduces brigades of reservists into the operation will surely weigh the damage to morale that pictures of dead and wounded reservists would cause. And the monopolistic hold on information will shatter once the reservists start sending home reports of the damage caused by the conscript units before them.