Deutsche Welle's Peter Philipp writes that Israel's ground offensive in Gaza is shocking despite all the warning signs in the past days and warns the West against backing Israel in a falsely understood show of solidarity
The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli representatives insist that their ground offensive, which began late Saturday, is not intended to end the Islamist Hamas group's reign in the Gaza Strip. Rather, the aim of the offensive is to halt further rocket attacks from there into Israeli, they say.
But the facts -- as far as they are known given that the international media is prevented from entering Gaza -- tell another story: Targeted attacks on leading Hamas representatives, the destruction of ministries and administration buildings and the constant killing and injuring of civilians -- every fourth casualty is reported to be a civilian -- have very little to do with Israel's stated aim of ending Hamas rocket fire. Instead, it all hints at an effort to wipe out Hamas.
Since both goals can't be achieved with fighter jets either in the short or long term, Israeli troops have now entered Gaza. Though the troops have been massing on the border to Gaza for days, the go-ahead for a ground offensive has sparked shock. That's because the incursion into Gaza adds a new dimension to the armed conflict, one whose outcome is even more uncertain than before.
Air strikes can be stopped in a moment, not so a ground invasion. And a troop pullback can't afford to be seen, in the eyes of those responsible, as a defeat or flight because that would make all the victims -- even those on their own side -- seem senseless.
A pullback thus has to be linked with success. But the question is -- what success can Israel hope to achieve in Gaza? It can't be the certainty that some day no more rockets will be launched from there into Israel. Rather, it's the hope of smashing Hamas in Gaza so that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from the Fatah faction, which has signed up to the peace process, can regain power again and Israel would once again have an acceptable negotiating partner.
It may sound far-fetched but it's apparently what Olmert's government is thinking even though they have sufficiently proven in the past that they didn't take seriously an acceptable negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. The only alternative would be a renewed permanent occupation of the Gaza Strip. But nobody wants that in Israel. In 2005, it was the nationalist leader Ariel Sharon who pulled out of Gaza in order to free his country from the burden.
That's why the invasion of Gaza will probably not solve any of the questions and problems and will probably once again lead to a fragile truce which will contain the next cycle of violence. Only this time, the hundreds of dead will further poison the atmosphere, ensuring that the conflict will get tougher each time.
This should be kept in mind by those, particularly in Washington, but also in European capitals -- including Berlin -- who are backing Israel in a falsely understood show of solidarity because they say Israel has a right to self-defense.
Of course, Israel has that right. But because the country seems to descend further into chaos in defending that right, it's probably time to save Israel from itself.
Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent (sp)