Why Israel Should Continue to Resist the Urge to Invade Gaza

The leaders of Israel's Kadima Party -- the main opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party -- have been agitating for a full-scale incursion into Gaza to battle the rocketeers who have been firing into southern Israel, and the terrorists who organized the fatal cross-border raid last week.

I suppose it's understandable why, for political reasons, Kadima would be agitating for a strong Israeli response (though I'm not sure if the whole "Netanyahu is soft on terror" meme would be taken seriously by Israeli voters), but as strategy, the call for a new invasion of Gaza makes no sense; as Netanyahu has acknowledged, Israel doesn't have the international credibility to launch such a campaign. In my Bloomberg View column this week, I talk about some other reasons why an Israeli raid would be a bad idea, and argue that Israel should spend its time working with Egypt -- to the extent Egypt wants to be worked with -- on securing the Sinai:

What is also needed is maximum Israeli restraint, not only in Sinai, but also in Gaza. The terrorists who carried out the fatal attack last week came from Gaza, and so have the rockets that have fallen regularly on southern Israel in the past few days. There are loud calls for retaliation in Jerusalem; the opposition Kadima Party has been leading the charge, demanding military operations to root out terrorism.

But a full-blown Israeli attack on Gaza would be a terrible idea, for many reasons. Hamas, the party in charge of Gaza, is not firing the rockets (that is the role mainly of the Islamic Jihad, which Hamas tries to control, intermittently). Israel's international isolation would only intensify if pictures of Israeli tanks rolling through Gaza were broadcast around the world, and Israel cannot afford more opprobrium now, a month before the Palestinians ask the United Nations to recognize them as a state.

Most importantly, such an attack would inflame Egyptian public opinion, and cause Egypt's current military rulers to curtail whatever level of security cooperation they're giving Israel to prevent further terror attacks.

And these sorts of incursions rarely seem to achieve their desired ends. In late 2008, Israel launched the unfortunately named Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which was meant not only to suppress Hamas rocket attacks but also destroy Hamas's infrastructure. Israel failed to achieve the second objective, and, although Hamas quieted its rocket launchers after the incursion, it still possesses the capability to launch when it pleases. (Israel can also afford more restraint now that it has developed more sophisticated anti-rocket defenses.)