EREZ CROSSING, on the Israel–Gaza border — As Israel’s tanks and troops poured into Gaza on Saturday, the next phase in its fierce attempt to end rocket attacks, a question hung over the operation: can the rockets really be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power in Gaza?
By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times
And if the answer is determined to be no, then is the real aim of the operation to remove Hamas entirely, no matter the cost?
After her visit to Paris on Thursday to explain to French authorities why she thought this was not the time for a quick cease-fire, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel said, “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region.”
Vice Premier Haim Ramon went even further Friday night in an interview on Israeli television, saying Israel must not end this operation with Hamas in charge of Gaza.
“What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern,” Mr. Ramon said on Channel One. “That is the most important thing.”
Neither Prime Minister Ehud Olmert nor Defense Minister Ehud Barak has made such a statement. Still, there is a growing and shared concern among Israeli leaders that any letup against Hamas would be problematic for Israel’s broad goals in the long term because it could bolster and validate the group, which says Israel should be destroyed.
“If the war ends in a draw, as expected, and Israel refrains from re-occupying Gaza, Hamas will gain diplomatic recognition,” wrote Aluf Benn, a political analyst, in the newspaper Haaretz on Friday. “No matter what you call it,” he added, “Hamas will obtain legitimacy.”
In addition, any potential truce deal would probably include an increase in commercial traffic from Israel and Egypt into Gaza, which is Hamas’s central demand: to end the economic boycott and border closing it has been facing. To build up the Gaza economy under Hamas, Israeli leaders say, would be to build up Hamas. Yet withholding the commerce would continue to leave 1.5 million Gazans living in despair.