The Times of London reports that Israel's new minister of defense, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, has drawn up plans for a massive strike on Gaza. Instead of police actions on limited scales, Barak would launch an all-out war on Hamas in the Strip, now that Fatah has no assets remaining there -- and would intend on wiping out all Islamist offensive capability in the region:
ISRAEL’s new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.
According to senior Israeli military sources, the plan calls for 20,000 troops to destroy much of Hamas’s military capability in days.
The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings.
Barak, who is expected to become defence minister tomorrow, has already demanded detailed plans to deploy two armoured divisions and an infantry division, accompanied by assault drones and F-16 jets, against Hamas.
This sounds a little optimistic. Barak's plan acknowledges that the Israelis would find stiffer resistance than they did in southern Lebanon last summer. Gaza has a much higher population density than the sub-Litani region did, and they will have to deal with much more urban fighting than in Lebanon. Normally an armed force would want a 2-1 advantage in troops before advancing against an entrenched enemy, but even that might be light for the kind of warfare Israel would likely face from Hamas -- hiding in civilian garb, using non-combatants as shields, and so on.
The Israeli Air Force would have less effect in this fight than one might think. They can target Hamas assets out in the open, but most of those assets will remain hidden in cities. Unless the Israelis plan on carpet-bombing places like Gaza City and Rafah, the Air Force will remain mostly irrelevant. Air power will probably have to be limited to helicopter gunships in support of infantry and armored units, and they will be vulnerable to missile attack.
Israel has to do something about Hamastan, without a doubt, but the question is what can they do most effectively. They would be better off taking out the major military points of Hamas and sealing off Gaza. Otherwise, the Israelis would not only have to roll across the entirety of Gaza, but they would also have to re-occupy it to keep Hamas from rising up again in the vacuum of their withdrawal. That does not sound like a promising use of the IDF, especially while Lebanon and Syria threaten Israeli security from the north.