Why Is Israel Attacking Gaza?

Something Israeli spokesmen keep telling me on the phone might inform us a little about what Israel is trying to achieve down in Gaza.

It goes like this: "Everyone thinks the war in Lebanon in 2006 was a disaster for us, and sure, we made mistakes! But look what's happened since? Hezbollah still hates us, but the northern border has been quiet for 2½ years. Well, that's what we want in Gaza too."

What they're saying is Israel's power of deterrence has been restored in the north, and the same needs to happen in the south.

When Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the others say they want to change the Israeli "security reality" in the south, they mean they want Hamas to think firing a rocket will provoke a massive Israeli response. Not just after eight years, but after every single launch.

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Israeli leaders hear from their intelligence people that Hamas was truly shocked by Israel's attack on Dec. 27. They didn't think Israel would launch the air campaign, and then they didn't think Israel had the nerve to send in the ground forces. They were wrong both times.

Today, when Ehud Olmert talks about launching "phase three" with even more troops going even deeper into Gaza's towns and refugee camps, I suspect Hamas believes him.

Another thing Israelis say to me in the quiet moments is that it's OK if the other side (Hamas) thinks Israel "is a bit crazy." One defence analyst told me "we want them to think we've gone berserk."

It's how some Israelis want to be seen in this part of the world. Those people feel it's what has kept them alive here, and I know it works.

In Israel a lot of people are scared of the Palestinians. In Gaza, I know, Palestinians are scared stiff of Israelis. If Israel is basing its deterrence on fear, then it's working.

It looks to me as if we're entering the endgame. Hamas seems to have blinked first and its rhetoric is softening. The Egyptian-backed truce plan is being pieced together like a complex jigsaw.

Both sides will no doubt emerge from this fight claiming victory. For Hamas, as with Hezbollah in 2006, survival will be victory enough. But Israelis hope that behind closed doors Hamas leaders in Gaza will draw a different conclusion. "We're still standing. The Israelis have gone. Gaza is in ruins. People hold us responsible. Maybe we should stop firing those rockets."

For most Israelis, that would be enough.