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Can Israel end this war at a time of its choosing?

In its latest conflict with Gaza, Israel has fewer mediators in the region to help bring a ceasefire.

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths look at an Iron Dome anti-missile battery near Tel Aviv Nov. 19. Israel bombed dozens of targets in Gaza on Monday and said that while it was prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire from the enclave.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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As Israel threatens to expand its Pillar of Defense operation “within hours” if a cease-fire is not reached, the country risks getting drawn into a fuzzier, more costly conflict that could undermine its security in the long-term.

It’s not for lack of foresight, officials maintain. The offensive was carefully calculated and fully took into consideration Hamas’s heightened capabilities since the 2008-09 Gaza war, they say. Yes, the Arab Spring has yielded a regional Islamist alliance that has rallied around Hamas, perhaps emboldening the militant organization that runs Gaza. Yes, Hamas now has the ability to hit areas like Tel Aviv, setting off sirens that haven’t been heard since the 1991 Gulf War. But Israel’s military and intelligence organizations were fully prepared to deal with those new realities, they argue.

What is less clear is whether Israel can control when and how the conflict ends as Israeli reservists amass on the border for a possible ground invasion and the post-Arab Spring government in Egypt struggles to mediate between ideological ally Hamas and estranged diplomatic ally Israel.

“I think we are quite in trouble in terms of the way out,” says veteran Israeli diplomat Alon Liel, now retired. “We don’t have a balanced mediator, and going in by land will change the battlefield in a way that might be very bad for us.”

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