The Gaza ground war has begun and it won’t end soon

Israeli soldiers in Gaza during the 2009 invasion.
Israeli soldiers in Gaza during the 2009 invasion.
Image: Reuters/Doron Keren/IDF
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The Israeli Defense Forces have begun sending ground troops into the Gaza strip, in an effort destroy rockets and tunnels used by Palestinian fighters to attack Israel. They’ll be staying for a while.

A ground invasion has been expected after the latest escalation in violence between the two countries began with the murder of three Israeli teenagers traveling from settlements in the West Bank was met with a reprisal killing of a Palestinian teenager. Rocket attacks and shelling between Israel and the Gaza strip over the last nine days have resulted in more than 230 Palestinian deaths and one Israeli death. Israeli military officials say that, without ground intervention, they won’t be able to prevent rocket and ground attacks targeting their civilians.

“We estimate that sitting there and eliminating Hamas terrorism from the Gaza Strip is a matter of many months,” an Israeli military official told the New York Times. “It’s not a matter of two or three months; it’s much more than that.”

Much more indeed: This is, after all, Israel’s sixth offensive in Gaza in eight years, and its third ground invasion. It’s what the political scientist Daniel Drezner calls ”the very stable cycle of destructive violence in Gaza.” It’s not clear that, even with a multi-month occupation, Israel will be able to change the facts on the ground that have led to Palestinian grievances or their ability to strike back against Israel. Nor is there any evidence that this incursion is part of any broader strategic plan to improve the prospects for a political settlement or a lasting peace deal.

The ground attack may eventually bring a short-term cessation in violence or ease domestic political pressure on Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. But it’s unlikely to bring an end to the distrust and dehumanization that have even the longest-standing peace negotiators throwing their hands up at the process.