In my previous analysis, I suggested that the government would unilaterally withdrawal, using the destruction of the tunnels as rubric for measuring a success. In so far that destruction of the tunnel infrastructure remains the government’s stated goal, that analysis remains at least the de facto measurement for while we’re (still) currently at war.
Du jure, I failed to include a couple considerations, not least of which is the difficulty of actually being sure that all the tunnels have been discovered and destroyed. While intelligence gathered from Hamas combatants seems to be helping in the hunt, it’s impossible that the IDF will ever conclusively commit to having destroyed all the tunnels.
Given the success that Hamas has had in using the tunnels, even while the IDF has declared an increased buffer zone inside the Strip, the government will be unable to claim destruction of tunnel infrastructure as a framework for a withdrawal. It would be a significant undermining of Israeli military might if Israel made such an announcement only to have Hamas commit a successful tunnel attack. This makes a negotiated ceasefire more likely, but only after the government figures they’ve discovered as much as they can via the operation. At some point in time the amount of dead soldiers will offer diminishing returns when measured against the number of new tunnels being found.
The assault on civilian infrastructure in recent days also lends credence to the idea that IDF objectives have shifted again, including strikes on the Gaza power plant and UN schools (which may or may not have been IDF fire… but at this point I think it’s safe to assume that at least some of them are deliberate). This may reflect the assumption that the government has reached (if they hadn’t done so long prior to the conflict) that they cannot provide security along the Gaza periphery through military means alone and are shifting back to deterrence, in the knowledge that the conflict is being watched by Hezbollah to the North.
Given that this current conflict seems to have been a measured escalation put into place by expansionist politicians, it’s not unreasonable to consider that there are some in the Cabinet that are pushing for a long term occupation of Gaza. Avigdor Lieberman has said as much out loud. However, I can’t imagine Netanyahu, who’s figuring on staying in power for the foreseeable future, would want to add such a massive unforeseen variable to his governing. Netanyahu has also given lip service to “in any ceasefire…”, suggesting that he’s preparing for this eventuality.
So, to review:
1) Israel is unable to stop rocket fire, or declare success in having discovered all the tunnels
2) The ease at which Hamas can continue to be a thorn in Israel’s side after a unilateral withdrawal, and the diminishing returns in finding new tunnels makes a negotiated ceasefire increasingly likely.
3) Given the previous considerations, the government will be focusing, in this final stage of the war, towards making sure that the final impression will create a strong deterrence, specifically in reminding Hezbollah of the painful 2006 war.
Hamas will likely gain at least some open borders in the negotiated ceasefire, which would probably be an optimal outcome for the group. In giving a lifeline to Hamas via a negotiated outcome, Israel will probably succeeded in weakening unity between it and the PA and gaining the quiet along its borders that it wouldn’t get via a unilateral withdrawal.