While Israeli politicians hope to gain public support for taking a hard line against militant Palestinians, that backing would diminish if Israel's military were to march into the Gaza Strip, according to German experts.
Israelhas marched into the Palestinian territories several times since the Oslo Accord of 1993 with the government in Jerusalem saying such advances were part and parcel of its right to self defense.
During the current ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, critics have said, Israel has escalated the situation by killing Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari. Gershon Baskin of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information wrote in The New York Times on Friday that Jabari, who played a major role in negotiation the release of Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, was also working behind the scenes on a ceasefire agreement when he was killed on Wednesday (14.11.2012).
Israeli domestic politics at Palestinians' expense
The current conflict is dominated by domestic concerns on the part of Israelis, according to Jochen Hippler of the Institute for Development and Peace at Duisburg-Essen University.
"At the moment it looks like the Israeli government is allowing the conflict to escalate as a campaign tactic," he told DW. "But a ground offensive in Gaza would not likely create the desired effect."
Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Israel for January 22. The public generally supports a hard line in issues of national security, but public backing would diminish during a long ground assault and deaths among Israel troops, according to Hippler.
"I think the most important reason is the most self-evident: rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip have increased in 2012," said Guido Steinberg, Middle East expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. "There were talks of a cease-fire and attempts at negotiations but they collapsed when the Israelis murdered the Hamas military head."
Seriously weakening Hamas using air strikes would be impossible. The Gaza Strip is among the most densely settled regions in the world and militant Islamists sometimes conduct their operations from residential areas, he added.
A political problem without a military solution
Past experiences have shown that Israel is capable of destroying Hamas' rocket launching positions, but not of driving the group from the political stage. Nearly four years ago, the last time Israel marched into the Gaza Strip in the three-week "Operation Cast Lead," an estimated 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis were killed and Hamas control of the Strip continued.
Hippler said a new Israeli ground offensive in Gaza would not lead to the result desired in Jerusalem.
"When the Israeli troops at some point leave, the Palestinian society will not have changed its mind about Israel," he said.
Instead, Hippler added, an offensive would give Hamas more legitimacy among Palestinians.
Overthrowing Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip is also not in Israel's interest, according to Steinberg.
"There is simply no alternative," he said. "The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is too weak to take over power in the Gaza Strip."
There are also other groups in Gaza that are more radical than Hamas and which are also firing rockets at Israel. Hamas has mostly been able to control these groups, but if Hamas were removed from power that would no longer be the case.
"These groups would likely then be stronger than before because they would be able to say that neither Hamas nor Fatah can protect Palestinians from Israeli attacks," Hippler added.
Israel's international isolation?
Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil visited the Gaza Strip on Friday in an effort to de-escalate the conflict. Egypt's position still holds sway in the Palestinian territories as Cairo's Muslim Brotherhood are loosely allied with Hamas. After the Arab Spring, the Egyptian government is not in a position to stand by and silently monitor the conflict in Gaza without losing legitimacy at home, Steinberg said.
"The Arab Spring has slightly worsened Israel's strategic positions," he said, adding that Israel would now have to evaluate how Cairo will respond to its every move.
A ground attack would make little sense for Israel Hippler concluded.
"Israel would burden its relations with Egypt, which it actually has to develop," he said. "And it would isolate itself in the international community without reaching its goals in Gaza."
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