Page last updated at 07:35 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009

Analysis: Operation Miscast Lead?

Palestinians drive through Jabalia, in northern Gaza on 4 February
Israel's doctrine was 'go crazy' in the name of deterrence - but rockets still come

By Paul Wood
Middle East correspondent

"Did we even fight a war in Gaza?" asked one Israeli newspaper editorial. This was a reference to the fact that rockets are still falling on Israeli soil two months after the Gaza offensive.

At the time, Israeli officials said the aim of Operation Cast Lead was to restore the principle of deterrence in southern Israel.

As it is understood in this part of the world, that means bludgeoning your enemies into submission, causing enough pain that they will hesitate to come back for more.

Israel now had a new military doctrine: "go nuts" once and your enemies will fear to strike again.

The next government will be led by Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud. He believes that the threat from Gaza is far less than that from a nuclear armed Iran

As Israeli commentator Ofer Shelah put it: "In the face of enemies who have opted for a strategy of attrition and attacking from a distance, Israel will present itself as a 'crazy country', the kind that will respond (albeit after a great deal of time) in a massive and unfettered assault, with no proportion to the amount of casualties it has endured."

Certainly, there was massive bombing of Gaza; some 1,300 Palestinians lives were lost, many civilians.

From Israel's point of view, did it work? The answer must be, only partially.

Hanukah 'miracle'

There is a lot less rocket fire on Israeli towns like Sderot and Ashkolon now than there was late last year.

As that antiseptic military phrase has it, the capabilities of Palestinian armed groups were "degraded".

So when the Israeli F-16s flew overhead on their way back from the first wave of bombings in Gaza, on 27 December, residents of Sderot cheered and honked their car horns.

"This is a Hanukah miracle," one told a passing TV crew.

Israel police douse a recently landed rocket fired from Gaza in Ashkelon, 3 February
Israel has not found that the 'rules of the game' have changed

(Israelis will not have missed the significance of calling the operation "Cast Lead". A popular children's song during the Jewish holiday of Hanukah is about playing with a spinning top made of cast lead. Palestinians will no doubt find the choice of words rather ghoulish.)

But the "Hanukah miracle" did not last. It is, again, an unusual day when Israelis in the southern towns do not have to run for the bomb shelters at least once.

Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said that Operation Cast Lead had failed miserably in its aim of "creating new rules of the game in the south".

"The arms smuggling was renewed and the rocket fire has continued," said an editorial. "The residents of Gaza are now perceived by the world as victims of Israeli vindictiveness."

The paper concluded: "In brief, we're screwed."

So will Israel go back into Gaza? Probably not. Despite the editorial in Yediot, most newspaper coverage and most political discourse is dominated by the economic crisis sweeping Israel, as it is the rest of the world. Things have moved on.

Although the residents of the south won't like it, the rest of the country probably thinks it can live with the handful of rockets or mortars now being fired.

After all, Israeli intelligence estimates the Palestinian militants were capable of firing up to 300 rockets a day before the Gaza offensive took place.

A new scenario

For the time being, there are assassinations, or targeted killings as the Israelis call them, and air strikes on the tunnels used to smuggle weapons in from Egypt.

But there seems to be no appetite in Israel to step up this activity into another offensive.

The next government will be led by Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud. He believes that the threat from Gaza is far less than that from a nuclear armed Iran.

Any Israeli military strike against Iran is still far from certain. But the chances will be greater with Mr Netanyahu as prime minister.

That is especially true after the head of military intelligence, General Amos Yadlin, said this week that Iran could now make a nuclear device if it chose, having amassed enough uranium and perfected the technology. (Iran denies this.)

If the leaks to the Israeli media are any guide, the country's military planners are now busying for scenarios for attacking Iran - not Gaza.

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