Conflict & Justice

As Israel starts a ground offensive, an Israeli journalist says it is obvious his country doesn't want war

Gaza Tank.jpg

An Israeli tank performs a maneuver after the end of a five-hour humanitarian truce, near the border with the Gaza Strip. Israeli leaders ordered a ground operation in Gaza soon after the temporary ceasefire, which was not honored by Palestinian militant groups.


REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday instructed the military to begin a ground offensive in Gaza.

Player utilities

This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

After gunmen from Hamas entered Israel on Wednesday through a smuggling tunnel, Israel said the operation would be a "precise" action to "target Hamas' tunnels that enable terrorists to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks."

The day began with a "humanitarian pause" in Israeli strikes to allow Gazan civilians to get supplies and leave whatever shelter they had been able to find in the densely crowded territory. But in the hours after the ceasefire ended, journalists in Gaza reported intensified shelling and, finally, the long-anticipated ground operation.

"Really, Gaza is being hit by both sides," said Sheera Frenkel, BuzzFeed's Middle East correspondent, noting that gunfire from the Israeli navy was continuing from the sea as troops crossed the border on the opposite side of Gaza.

But Frenkel agreed that the operation appears limited in scope. "They don't want to, in their words, 'reoccupy the Gaza Strip,'" she said. "They want to move in and focus on operational goals."

Another thing the operation is not intended to do is kill innocent civilians, said David Horovitz, a long-time Israeli journalist and the founding editor of the online Times of Israel.

"Israel's leaders and all Israelis, I'm convinced, are unhappy that civilians are being killed in Gaza," he said. "It's not that Israel is insensitive or indifferent to the deaths, it's just that there's a very strong sense here that blaming Israel is looking at this without basic context."

The context, he said, is that Israel pulled its settlements and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005 and no longer has any military presence there. And, he pointed out, Israel is taking daily rocket fire from militant groups in the Gaza Strip, mainly Hamas. "And Israel is only firing back."

But no matter how much firepower Israel uses, it seems unlikely that Hamas will simply give up, without getting something from Israel.

"It's a pretty difficult conundrum, and nobody is saying there's a perfect solution here," Horovitz said.

Hamas has made three key demands. They want Egypt to open its border crossing with Gaza, at Rafah; they'd like government employees to get paychecks, which haven't come in months; and they want Israel to release dozens of Hamas operatives who were arrested in recent weeks while Israel was searching for the killers of three Jewish teens.

"I'm not sure there isn't some give on maybe even all of those demands," Horovitz said. "Where I see the problem," he said, "is the key Israeli demand. The key Israeli demand is that there be no more rocketfire on Israel for the forseeable future."

Horovitz acknowledged that as the death toll rises in Gaza, Israel's actions are not popular around the world. 

"I understand that this is perceived as an asymmetrical war," he said, "and I think the international community has got this completely the wrong way around. It is obvious, if you take a moment to look at it, that there would be no hostility between Israel and Gaza if Hamas wasn't firing rockets into Israel." 

Horovitz said Israel has little option but to try and quash Palestinian militancy before it gets out of control. And he says the reason is all about context: "You're in the Middle East, where Israel, nine miles wide, is led by a leader who sees Islamic extremism on the march in Iraq and in Syria and in Lebanon." 

Editor's note: Our interview with David Horovitz is in the audio player near the top of this article. Our interview with Sheera Frenkel is below.