Israel's campaign in Gaza is widening, but the army is unlikely to stay

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Marco Werman: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a little more information today on what Israel's strategy is now. He warned Israelis to be ready for a protracted campaign in Gaza. He also called for the territory to be demilitarized. But what does that mean exactly? Ofer Zalzberg is a senior analyst with the thinktank, the International Crisis Group, he's in Jerusalem. What do you think Netanyahu means by demilitarization? Ofer Zalzberg: I think Netanyahu distinguished between a medium term or long term goal of the demilitarization. He said that that's an overall political goal, he did not say it's a specific goal of the current military operation. I think he essentially acknowledges that it's impossible for this operation to demilitarize Hamas in the sense of totally disarming it. However, he emphasized that the military operation would not end until what he called the terror tunnels, that is to say offensive tunnels Hamas is using to attack civilians, would be dismantled. Werman: Can they actually take apart the tunnels without occupying the Gaza Strip, the Israelis? Zalzberg: Somewhat. That is to say, the entry shafts of the tunnels are very often within populated areas within Gaza but this is still limited, it's not deep within the Strip. Werman: But when we're talking the demilitarization of Gaza, we're not just talking tunnels, at least Netanyahu is not just talking tunnels. Practically aren't the Israeli troops going to be knocking on a lot of doors in Gaza, maybe even kind of developing some kind of permanent war footing there? Zalzberg: The Israelis are hesitating between two options and Netanyahu would very much like to avoid one of them, as would the defense establishment, but we are seeing the Israelis gradually being pulled into a deeper and more extensive campaign everyday. One option is to retake the entire Gaza Strip and the other one is essentially to exit as soon as possible. I don't think that Netanyahu is now intent on sending the IDF into many houses or thinking that he should now focus on disarming Hamas of its weapons. He knows these are hidden within population centers and he would not like to escalate that now. Werman: If escalation was in the cards at some point, does Israel have enough troops and money to sustain a long, protracted occupation of Gaza and does it have the political will - does the country have the political will? Zalzberg: Exactly. I think that the question is about political will. Israel has the troops, has the money and the assessments by experts is that such a campaign would take between a year and two years to fully dismantle Hamas' military infrastructure. That is to say, arrest all of the leadership, take out all of the armaments, shut down all of these tunnels. What Israel is short of currently is essentially support from public opinion. Public opinion is slowly shifting in this direction but there is still no majority for retaking the Gaza Strip. Werman: That's Ofer Zalzberg with the International Crisis Group in Jerusalem.