Netanyahu faces tough choices in his crackdown on Hamas
ONCE there was Operation Cast Lead, then came Pillar of Defence and now Gaza is the target of Protective Edge. Israel's attempts to stop Hamas, the radical Islamist movement, from using this Palestinian territory as a giant launch pad for rocket attacks have carried numbingly repetitive labels.
As strike aircraft fill the summer sky with white con trails yet again, the question is whether this operation will tread the same path of escalation as its predecessors?
At present, no one doubts that the conflict is intensifying. Hamas fired 100 rockets at Israel on Monday alone and dozens more followed yesterday.
Israel, meanwhile, struck 50 targets across Gaza in the space of a few hours, killing 13 Palestinians.
If, as Israel's leaders believe, Hamas's military commanders have chosen escalation, their next move would be to strike beyond the towns lying within 25 miles of Gaza and fire longer range rockets at bigger population centres.
Israel's likely response would be air raids designed to kill Hamas leaders, not simply the foot soldiers who launch the projectiles.
The next stage would be for Hamas to deploy its biggest rockets against Tel Aviv itself.
If so, Israel might follow up the air strikes with a ground invasion of Gaza. Contrary to his image, however, Benjamin Netanyahu is a deeply cautious prime minister. He will be reluctant to risk a ground operation.
And there is one further consideration.
What if an Israeli assault was too successful for its own good and Hamas was destroyed?
Would its successors in Gaza be any more palatable?
Might they even be radical jihadists cut from the same cloth as those who have overrun northern Iraq?
"If Israel deals Hamas a mortal blow, who will fill the governmental vacuum that it will leave behind?" asked Nahum Barnea, an Israeli commentator in Yedioth Ahronoth, a local daily.
"Gaza is liable to become an anarchy like Somalia or a refuge for terror organisations affiliated with al-Qaeda.
"Hamas is bad, but maybe it's the lesser evil."
So Mr Netanyahu must grapple with an unfamiliar dilemma: how to punish Hamas, but not bring it down? (© Daily Telegraph, London)