After several days of Hamas launched rocket attacks into southern Israel and Israeli air strikes only aimed at countering that threat alone, Israel today struck back with a pinprick followed by a sledge hammer by first taking out the leader of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Al-Jaabari with a surgical air strike and quickly following up with a large scale air, sea and artillery assault on multiple targets in Gaza in a military operation codenamed "Pillar of Defense".
Hamas immediately responded with multiple Grad rockets fired at Beersheba in Israel, all but 4 of which were shot down in flight by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. Hamas says this is only their initial response and that the Israeli air strike on which killed Al-Jaabari has 'opened the gates of hell'. Israel's IDF actually tweeted the following; "We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead."
The Jerusalem Post is reporting as breaking news, that the Israeli Army is ready to begin a ground assault on Gaza. The current air, land and sea assault could well be preparatory bombardment for such an operation, as it would be essential to suppress as much rocket fire as possible before advancing troops and tanks sortied out in the open towards Gaza.
The last Israeli ground operation into Gaza known as "Operation Cast Lead" launched in 2008 met with controversy surrounding both civilian casualties in Gaza and questions in Israeli leadership and among the public about just what the operation was meant to achieve. It's goals did not seem very clear to anyone. A pattern which was a repeat of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Some in Israel felt the Gaza operation was an effort by then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to, 'wag the dog' to draw attention away from his massive legal problems.
The government of Egypt had been making efforts at mediation between the two side, but the Egyptian Justice and Freedom Party has announced that Egypt would get involved if Israel continues to kill people in Gaza. However, Egyptian President Morsi has not as of yet backed up that statement. Morsi is no longer the official head of the Freedom and Justice Party since being elected President of Egypt.
It is very doubtful now that any mediation will succeed. Israel has endured this latest round of rocket attacks for several days and this is but the latest of several sustained Hamas rocket attacks lasting days or weeks at a time. Israel has been fortunate in that its Iron Dome missile defense system has averted many casualties. But, there would eventually come a point when Hamas amassed enough rockets to overwhelm part or all of the coverage area of Iron Dome.
Israel's current government is not likely to wait until that point arrives. Given the choice they are more likely to invade and occupy part or all of Gaza to root out the threat and deal with the international consequences than to stand by while their citizens begin to die. Israel could assuage the international outcry if after subduing Hamas they turned authority of Gaza back over to the Palestinian Authority with certain conditions on security. The PA is by all rights the controlling government authority over Gaza anyway. Hamas simply took over after shooting their way into power.
Taking decisive action on Gaza is also a signal to Iran, that Israel is willing to undertake large scale operations. The Mullahs in Iran are currently given to believe that Israel is less likely to do anything without a wink and a nod from Washington. That belief is based partly in the Obama Administrations views on Israeli-Palestinian peace as well as the previous Bush Administrations less than favorable reactions to Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War.