HARI SREENIVASAN: To try to put the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in a broader context, we are joined tonight by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Cordesman previously served in the State Department and was the Director of Intelligence Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. So let’s try to lay out the options for both sides here, let’s start with the Israeli side.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well, the Israelis at this point have flown well over 1,000. Basically with their power they can go on, but it’s a slow process of attrition. The Palestinians and Hamas have had plenty of time to relocate and move. They can now also launch a ground offensive and that can take two forms.
One would be a limited ground offensive aimed at Hamas targets outside the city. The other would be one which would try to take control of populated areas which would mean a lot more fighting but give them direct control over the government, the structure inside Gaza.
The problem with both of those offensives is that they’d have to stay there for a considerable amount of time at a minimum to have an impact and control a very large Palestinian population. But the problem with stopping is they probably have not really intimidated Hamas to make it stop for a long period of time and most Israeli estimates indicate that the bulk of its rockets and missiles are still there and have not been destroyed.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What about the options for Hamas?
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Hamas’ options are very limited. They’ve tried to do some limited raids outside of Gaze, they failed. Frankly, Israeli security is too tight. They can keep launching rockets and they’ve done that the past few days in spite of all of the air strikes. But these have more of a psychological than a military effect.
Basically they keep sending signals to Israel that Hamas can strike deep. But they’re not lethal or accurate enough to really hit key targets and so far they haven’t produced either casualties or strategic results. Hamas can declare a ceasefire, regroup, try to capitalize on the fighting, politically.
Accuse Israel of war crimes and a whole litany of charges they’ve made in the past, but that has not given Hamas any real benefits to date. The one thing that is potentially ominous is that there have been strikes, potentially from Lebanon, evidently from Hezbollah. Now, a two-front war would have a very different character and the missiles in Hezbollah hands are a great deal more accurate and more lethal.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And what about the costs here? I mean these airstrikes over time not just cost munitions, but obviously they cost human lives and possible civilian casualties as well?
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: Well, the human lives and the casualties are very serious. You have over 100 dead, over 600 wounded and the numbers keep counting. But the thing to remember about Gaza is those direct casualties are only a small part of the problem. There are 1.8 million people. Actually more than that. Most of them are very young, it’s a very young population.
They’ve already been isolated for years as a result of the last round of fighting. The schools, the medical services, the job opportunities are terrible. And you see basically in the area around Gaza you have a per capita income which is about half that in the west bank.
You have far less development. This is a problem where every round of fighting does more damage to the Palestinians in Gaza. And the question for Hamas is can you get the people to put up with this? Can you keep them focused and angry at Israel? Or do they become focused and angry at you?
HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Anthony Cordesman, thanks so much.
ANTHONY CORDESMAN: My pleasure.