Israel: History of Failed Ground Attacks

Manila Bulletin, January 5, 2009 | Go to article overview

Israel: History of Failed Ground Attacks


TEL AVIV, Israel - Israel, which launched a massive land invasion of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, has a long and largely unsuccessful history of sending ground forces into Arab population centers. Israeli forces have either gotten bogged down or sustained heavy casualties, without quelling violent groups or halting attacks for good.

The most recent example was the 2006 war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, who fought mighty Israel to a draw. But that conflict also spawned a concept that could be applied in Gaza - an international force.

Israel's reluctance to send infantry and armored units into Gaza this time was palpable. Ex-generals and analysts warned that an operation big enough to stop the daily rocket barrages from Gaza would require large masses of forces and result in high casualties on both sides.

Israel insists it has no intention of recapturing the Gaza Strip after pulling its army and settlements out of the territory in 2005.

Such an operation would require sweeps through cities and refugee camps, house-to-house combat and mass destruction, while leaving Israel's soldiers as easy targets for grenades, mortars, booby traps and even suicide bombers.

Israel does not have the stomach for such military casualties, and past experience has shown that world opinion would not allow Israel to kill and injure thousands of Palestinians in an effort to clean out Gaza down to the last militant and rocket.

That leaves the formula that has been tried in the past and failed - a limited offensive, taking control of northern Gaza, the area where militants generally fire rockets at Israel. That has halted the rocket barrages as long as the Israeli forces are there, but the militants simply resume their volleys on the heels of the withdrawing soldiers.

Israel frequently does not dictate how long it will stay.

In the past, Israeli ground offensives have been cut short when an errant shell or missile hit a civilian center, killing and wounding women and children, leading to an international outcry that forced Israel to stand down.

In 1996, an invasion of southern Lebanon to quell militant rocket fire at northern Israel was aborted after an artillery shell hit a camp of villagers next to a UN post, killing about 100 people. …

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