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Israel likely to intensify operation in Gaza
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"There is a clear dilemma. The question is whether the marginal benefit of continuing, putting more troops in and going further into the city, will outweigh the cost," Professor Gerald Steinberg, chair of the political studies department at Bar Ilan University, told Xinhua.

He noted that the possibility of more Israeli soldiers being killed, and increased international pressure as the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama draws nearer were serious concerns.

"The further Israel goes in, the more difficult it will be to extricate forces," Steinberg said. "As it is unlikely that reoccupation is a goal, the level of destruction will make it harder for the local Palestinian economy to recover and that would benefit Hamas and other radical elements," he added.

Meanwhile, one of the operation's main focus points remains the destruction of a large network of smuggling tunnels under the Philadelphi Route along the border between Egypt and Israel, which Israel said are being used to replenish Hamas and other armed groups.

"There is a major strategic vulnerability that Israel is confronted with in terms of the porousness of this 14 or 15 km crossing," Diker said. "Olmert feels that if Israel does not intensify the operation to disable Hamas' access to Iranian weaponry via the Rafah corridor and its ability to attack, it will continue to flow under the Philadelphi Route.

Egypt has agreed to assist Israel in the destruction of the smuggling tunnels to Gaza, and has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the U.S. and European engineering experts to deal with the tunnels in the Rafah area.

Diker noted that there were two pressure points that complicated the diplomatic resolution of the situation.

"Pressure point one is that the Iranians through their Syrian-based Hamas servant are pressuring Hamas not to capitulate in Gaza," Diker said, adding that Iran plays an important role in the desert strip. "Iran holds the Hamas purse strings."

"Iran has been pushing buttons not to reach a ceasefire in this conflict," Diker said, noting that its interest is to distract international attention away from the Iranian nuclear program.

The other point concerned Israel's wariness about the involvement of security regime strategies that failed in the past, such as the 2005 crossing agreement following Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

"We cannot revive old security paradigms. We need a stronger deterrent and at the same time completely smash the revival of Hamas," Diker said.

He said that the disarmament of Hamas might take from a few weeks to a month and a half, but noted that the Israeli government has been wary of a long, open-ended mission that might evolve into a military occupation for an extended period of time.

"If the IDF really wants to clear the territory it would have to hold on to it for six to eight months, but the political echelon is clearly not in favor of such a position as it would remind us of the former occupation of Gaza and the former security situation with Lebanon which ended up lasting 18 years," Diker said.

Though the future strategy of the operation remains unclear, Steinberg noted that the conflict was not likely to be resolved through international intervention.

"There is absolutely no confidence among either the Israeli leadership or the general public in a guarantee from any international body to end the conflict," he said.

"Israel will end its operation when the military logic dictates the end, and not because of some external proposal or peace initiative," Steinberg added.

(Xinhua News Agency January 13, 2009)

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