THE KILLING of Ja'abari was the sign for starting the planned operation.
The Gaza Strip is full of missiles. Some of them are able to reach Tel Aviv, some 40 km away. The Israeli military has long planned a major operation to destroy as many of them as possible from the air. Intelligence has patiently gathered information about their location. This is the purpose of the "Pillar of Cloud" operation. ("And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way -- Exodus 13:21).
While I am writing this, I don't know yet how the whole thing will end. But some conclusions can already be drawn.
FIRST OF All, this is not Cast Lead II. Far from it.
The Israeli army is rather good at discreetly drawing lessons from its failures. Cast Lead was celebrated as a great success, but in reality it was a disaster.
Sending troops into a densely populated area is bound to cause heavy civilian casualties. War crimes are almost inevitable. World reaction was catastrophic. The political damage immense. The Chief of Staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, was widely acclaimed, but in reality he was a rather primitive military type. His present successor is of a different caliber.
Also, grandiose statements about destroying Hamas and turning the Strip over to the Ramallah leadership have been avoided this time.
The Israeli aim, it was stated, is to cause maximum damage to Hamas with minimum civilian victims. It was hoped that this could be achieved almost entirely by the use of air power. In the first phase of the operation, this seems to have succeeded. The question is whether this can be kept up as the war goes on.
HOW WILL it end? It would be foolhardy to guess. Wars have their own logic. Stuff happens, as the man said.
Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, the two men in overall command, hope the war will wind down once the main aims are achieved. So there will be no reason to employ the army on the ground, enter the Gaza Strip, kill people, lose soldiers.
Deterrence will be restored. Another truce will come into force. The Israeli population surrounding the Strip will be able to sleep soundly at night for several months. Hamas will be cut down to size.
But will this whole exercise change the basic situation? Not likely.
Ja'abari will be replaced. Israel has assassinated dozens of Arab political and military leaders. Indeed, it is the world champion of such assassinations, politely referred to as "targeted preventions" or "eliminations." If this were an Olympic sport, the Ministry of Defense, the Mossad and the Shin Bet would be festooned with gold medals.
Sometimes one gets the impression that the assassinations are an aim in themselves, and the other operations just incidental. An artist is proud of his art.
What have the results been ? Overall -- nothing positive. Israel killed Hizbollah leader Abbas al-Moussawi, and got the vastly more intelligent Hassan Nasrallah instead. They killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmad Yassin, and he was replaced by abler men. Ja'abari's successor may be less or more able. It will make no great difference.
Will it stop the steady advance of Hamas? I doubt it. Perhaps the opposite will happen. Hamas has already achieved a significant breakthrough, when the Emir of Qatar (owner of Aljazeera) paid Gaza a state visit. He was the first head of state to do so. Others are bound to follow. Just now, in the middle of the operation, the Egyptian prime minister arrived in Gaza.