Punishing Hamas may usher in worse enemies, experts warn
Israel will have to tread a fine line between punishing Hamas and creating a power vacuum that could allow groups linked to al-Qa'ida to take its place Gaza, military experts say.
Even though Hamas denies Israel's right to exist, Israeli officials consider it the lesser of the many evils that could flourish in Gaza were it to be weakened to the point of collapse by military action.
The Gaza Strip is already home to a number of shadowy extremist militant groups, including a faction loyal to Islamic State (formerly known as Isis), the al-Qa'ida offshoot group that seized large parts of northern Iraq last month.
"One way in which an Israeli military operation could backfire is by shaking Hamas's control on the ground to the point that it allowed other factions, including jihadists, to come to the fore," said Brig Gen Michael Herzog, a former chief of staff to Israel's ministry of defence.
"At least Hamas provides an address – you don't have that with the jihadi factions. They aren't dominant right now but Hamas no longer controls Gaza as firmly as it used to, and if it was seriously weakened they could take advantage. We don't want another Somalia on our doorsteps."
Brig Gen Herzog said Israel's long-term military objective in Gaza would be to pressurise Hamas into returning to a ceasefire "for as long as possible".
He said: "The Israeli response is a gradual one, scaling up to include Hamas's military infrastructure and underground attack headquarters.
"The hope is that as we do so, Hamas will be convinced that a ceasefire would be the best option."
However, he said Hamas was acting as if it had a "direct interest" in escalating the conflict, with a view to extracting better terms of any future ceasefire deal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)