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Israel's Gaza surge

The invasion has yet to reveal if Israel plans to end Hamas or just its rocket capability.

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Israel's land offensive – or is it a "land defensive"? – that began Saturday against the rocket-launching Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip brings an intensity of war not seen between Palestinians and Israelis in decades. As in the Middle East in the past, how the war ends will matter more than why it began.

Even if few of the Islamic group's leaders and their 15,000 fighters survive against tens of thousands of Israeli troops, they will have won the contest over the perception of victory. Hamas will continue to have wide support among Gazans who voted it into power and will still seek Israel's destruction with jihadi violence.

That's why it is critical for peace to know Israel's ultimate goal in launching a ground war that both sides could regret.

In coming days, the door-to-door tactics of the Israeli army will reveal that goal – and also help shape talks to end the war. So far, for instance, the Israelis have showered leaflets on northern Gazans asking them to leave their homes. Is that to prepare for a permanent no-rockets zone?

Before a six-month truce ended on Dec. 19, triggering a surge of Hamas rocket fire on Israeli civilians that led to the start of an air bombardment Dec. 27, Israel had talked of wiping out Hamas. But that message changed after the air war started. Now the official goal is to simply dismantle the Hamas infrastructure to launch rockets. That message went off-track last week, however, when Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, said the goal is to "destroy completely [the] terrorist gang."

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