As a number of commentators are pointing out, "Operation Cast Lead" has reached a critical point. It looks like the air force is starting to run out of significant targets to hit. Israel has destroyed Hamas's major above-ground military installations and has bombed the known tunnels. The trouble is that rockets are still flying, and with more effect than before the war. Have Minister of Defense Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabriel Ashkenazi sufficiently absorbed the lessons of the Lebanon war to maintain the initiative against Hamas?
If the IDF proves incapable of staying on the offensive, it may as well push for an improved cease fire now. Otherwise, it can only be Lebanon all over again: a tentative ground operation, with many casualties, that fails to make a dent in the enemy's rocket-firing capabilities. Granted, the air force has inflicted significant casualties on Hamas and, at least temporarily, disoriented its leadership and troops. Israel also did well to prepare its citizens for a potentially lengthy engagement, that may see many of them confined to bunkers.
But the tide can turn quickly. Should Hamas score a major hit against a civilian site, prove successful in defending against Israeli armor, or ambush a reconnaissance platoon, Israel will be drawn into a media contest similar to the one waged against Nasrallah in 2006.
A ground operation would have to train overwhelming force on strategic sites and persons, and move with rapid speed. The truth is that we do not know Hamas's defensive capabilities. No doubt, the group has carefully studied the Hizbullah playbook. Accordingly, we could expect to see heavy use of anti-tank weapons against armor as well as infantry, and IEDs along the lines of those used to stop the tank pursuing the kidnappers of Gilad Shalit.
The question is what the objectives - understood in a more limited, tactical sense - of a ground operation would be. What sites can be seized and held with purpose? Does it make sense to land troops from the sea, in addition to entering the Strip with tanks and infantry from the north and east?
More important, of course, are the larger strategic objectives of "Operation Cast Lead." The foolish comment by Haim Ramon, which formulated the objective as "bringing down Hamas," does not bode well. It sets Israel up for failure.