The top candidates to become Israel’s next prime minister vowed on Sunday to topple Hamas in the Gaza Strip and officials authorized strikes on a wider range of Islamist targets after a six-month-old truce ended in violence.

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Underscoring the military challenge facing Israel in the densely-populated Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said even an incursion involving two-to-three divisions, or more than 20,000 troops, may not be enough to stop rocket fire.

Government ministers promising to topple Hamas “do not know what they are talking about,” Barak said. ~Reuters

This was an older article from mid-December, but it seemed worth commenting on now. Just about every observer, whether supportive of the strikes or not, seems to accept that toppling Hamas is either impossible or undesirable or both. It appears that it will be the stated policy of the Israeli government to pursue that goal regardless of which party controls the coalition government after February’s elections, which means that either Livni or Netanyahu will come to power with a pledge to do something that cannot be done or should not be done. Barak’s remarks suggest that, if it is possible, it would be extremely difficult and costly to do, and it seems clear that there would be no other force capable of replacing Hamas once it has been overthrown. A Mediterranean Somalia would be a likely result, which would almost certainly worsen Israeli security and make it extremely difficult to establish order in Gaza. So both party leaders are promising a massive military campaign to destroy Hamas and to return to the occupation of Gaza under even more chaotic conditions than there were three years ago, and the Defense Minister was essentially saying that both of them are clueless.

I take the point that the siege of Gaza is driven by an angry Israeli public that does not want to supply a territory from which they are being attacked. That’s understandable, but it is short-sighted. This anger seems to be blinding the public to the realities Barak is describing. If there were any reason to think that the strikes on Hamas were to be paired with a later lifting of the siege, I might be able to see some long-term rationale for them, but at present the only likelihood of any military success in Gaza relies on perpetuating and intensifying the siege for a long time to come, which is sure to be a long-term political loser for Israel.