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Israeli centrists push for Gaza ground offensive

As the Israeli cabinet considers a ground invasion in Gaza, self-proclaimed Israeli centrists are pushing for it
Israeli soldiers sleep on their tank near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday (AFP)

“I feel we’re making up for the mistake us and the United States made in allowing an authoritarian regime to rule Gaza…it is time to end the recurrent terror of Hamas once and for all.”- Aryeh Green

Jerusalem-based policy analyst, Aryeh Green, wants more than just a ceasefire with Hamas. As public opinion within Israel (led by the likes of right-wing foreign affairs minister Avigdor Lieberman) may be turning in favour of a ground operation in Gaza, more and more self-proclaimed “centrists” are jumping on board.

Green is one of those centrists. He is the director of Media Central, which describes itself as a bipartisan service, providing information to foreign journalists. He is the former policy adviser to Natan Sharansky, co-founder of Israel’s right-wing political party, Yisrael BaAliyah. Green is also one of a large number of Israeli citizens who want more than just a ceasefire with Hamas.

He posted a Facebook status over the weekend, calling for more serious action against Gaza’s ruling party.

“It is time to end the recurrent terror of Hamas once and for all. It is time to do what former head of the Israeli National Security Council, Uzi Dayan and former Chief of Operations of Southern Command, Tzvika Fogel are advocating. Go in, find and capture or kill the Hamas leadership, find and destroy the Hamas infrastructure, find and destroy the Hamas weapons caches, and then help the Gazan population work for a better future,” he posted online.

When contacted by Middle East Eye about his opinion, he stressed that these were his own sentiments, and not the opinions of Media Central.

“When you talk about the ceasefires in place, first in 2009 and then in 2012, I’d even contest that, because there has been continual rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, ever since the 2005 disengagement and the expulsion of all the Jews living there,” he told MEE.

On Sunday afternoon, Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu continued the rhetoric, telling his cabinet members that Israel will “continue to respond to attacks from Hamas.”

“Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire. I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens, and this is what we are doing.”

“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength. We are hitting commanders, militants, arsenals and command centres,” the prime minister added.

He declared that Israel’s resolve is growing, as more than 600 rockets from Gaza have now targeted Israel, some as far north as Haifa, as well as an attack on Tel Aviv late last night. There have been no confirmed deaths in Israel, but the death toll in Gaza has now climbed to 167.

Green isn’t suggesting that a ground offensive in Gaza would necessarily mean a long-term stay in Gaza.

Instead, he has suggested demilitarising Gaza and dismantling Hamas before leaving the strip to new leadership such as the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas, or “even Egypt.”

'Enough is enough'

“I don’t know of anyone in Israel’s political world who is calling for a retaking of Gaza, the vast majority are calling for an extended operation which will achieve that goal of dismantling Hamas’ weaponry and perhaps even the infrastructure itself. Virtually nobody is advocating going in and remaining in Gaza for the long term. Enough is enough,” Green told MEE.

His opinions have found favour with another “centrist” business leader in Jerusalem.

Former IDF soldier and defence force spokesman during the Second Intifada, Marcus Sheff, told MEE that there is no point in reaching a ceasefire, only to wait around for the next battle.

“We don’t want Hamas to return to stocking up weapons, to fire them at Israelis in another year’s time – you know we don’t want to be here in the summer of 2015, having the same conversation.”

These days, Sheff runs a non-profit organisation called, The Israel Project, which is another support service for foreign journalists.

But Israel and its future remain a passion for Sheff. He echoes the government’s stance.

“Hamas is a very extreme terror organisation which holds its own population hostage, like many others in this region, while attacking other innocent civilians," he said.

“Israelis and the government don’t want to wait for Hamas to have its back against the wall again, to be friendless again, and get the support of its own people again by attacking Israel.  We need to know Hamas is not going to be able to threaten Israelis for a good while to come," Sheff added.

Sheff accepts any ground invasion could mean staying in Gaza for longer. Green accepts this possibility as well, believing that the Israeli public and the government are ready for it.

“For the betterment of Gaza’s population, let alone for the safety of Israeli citizens under barrage of rocket attacks, we have to go in, and stay in. When we pull out next time, we have to leave a different mechanism, which we don’t have to be involved in running.”

Both men maintain that they held the same opinion before 2009 and 2012 during the last ceasefires. Green said, in fact, he has held the same view since the day after then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israel to pull out of Gaza in August 2005.

He opposed the disengagement because, he says, he felt this coming.

“I am not one of those who opposed the disengagement out of a refusal to accept the creation of Palestinian independence. In fact, the opposite, I have been a fierce advocate for Palestinian independence, but one which is free and democratic," Green said.

Sheff added, “There’s a slight difference now (as opposed to 2009 and 2012) in that it’s the third time around since 2009 that there’s been a ceasefire and I think people are more aware, especially people down south that we need as longer term solution. This will avoid the problem of Hamas popping up every year or two and deciding how many Israelis they can kill.”

'Israel shouldn’t cede'

Israel negotiator and fellow at Jewish People Policy, retired Brigadier General Michael Herzog, doesn’t expect an end to the conflict anytime soon.

He told MEE that Israel isn’t likely to accept Hamas’ demands to release re-arrested prisoners.

During Israel’s manhunt for the three abducted teenagers, the IDF re-arrested six Palestinians originally allowed to walk from prison in 2011 as part of a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The men were all serving prison sentences for murder.

“I don’t think Israel should cede to Hamas’demands and I don’t think Israel will do it. I don’t think there are any chances this will happen," Herzog said. "These people were put back into jail following the abduction and killing of the three Israeli teens, with information about the kidnapping.”

He also isn’t expecting public opinion to be in favour of a release either.

“I don’t think Israel has a desire to replay the confrontation, with hundreds of rockets being fired on Israel in just a few months....so the desire is to bring a stable and long-term ceasefire.”

Retired diplomat and senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, Oded Eran told MEE while there is still not a unanimous backing of a ground invasion, the public support for it is much more than in 2009 and 2012.

He believes that’s because people are tired of subjecting themselves to constant disruption.

“It’s been going on for too long. People are starting to think that at no stage should we allow ourselves to be subjected to this disruption to our lives, our property, our economy. Those against a ground invasion say there will be casualties on both sides," Eran said. 

Despite this, more and more people of all political persuasions are supportive of a ground invasion, he said.

“By and large, the public wants a decisive act, but no casualties on both sides.”