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For Israel, costs and benefits of striking Gaza

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Will there be a ground incursion? Israeli Home Defense Minister Avi Dichter seemed to call for one when he said Tuesday: "There is no precedent in history of destroying terror by air power alone. It hasn't happened and it won't happen. Thus it is necessary to reformat Gaza altogether."

Or will the guns soon go silent, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refocusing on his country's January election, having bolstered his "tough on terror" credentials without a messy and uncertain ground action?

Israeli spokesmen say more than 750 rockets fired from Gaza have hit southern Israel this year. The rockets sow real and deep terror in Israeli communities. But that's about all they can do. The vast majority of the rockets from Gaza are like C-minus high school science fair projects, carry limited amounts of explosive, and are impossible to aim. For all that rocket fire, not a single Israeli has been killed by one this year.

Israel's overwhelming military superiority to all the armed groups in Gaza (Hamas may be the biggest, but it's not the one that usually fires the rockets) means that when it retaliates, lives are lost on the Palestinian side of the fence and substantial damage is done to the enclave's infrastructure. That's what happened in the last major assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, which ran for three weeks starting in late December 2008. The toll was more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, along with devastation of Gaza's electricity system and other basic infrastructure.

Then, as now, the precipitating issue was the firing of rockets from Gaza. And then, as now, there are potential costs for Israel in an aggressive response to the Gaza militants. Hamas has an arsenal of Fajr rockets from Iran, that have much longer ranges than the rockets typically fired from Gaza. Israel says it has been targeting launch sites for the rockets in the attacks today, but has it gotten them all? Unlikely. Will Hamas decide to unleash the weapons on Israel in retaliation? Possibly.

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