Israel wages war against Gaza
The massive air strikes launched by Israel against Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip have caused hundreds of deaths already, 390 at last count. After a brief cease-fire rumor, there appears to be no end in sight for the near term. One Hamas leader demanded that Israel to "stop attacking and killing our children, women and men," but that is pretty hard when the "combatants" are taking refuge in civilian neighborhoods. See CNN.com.
Because of the large number of civilian deaths, many people have -- understandably -- objected to Israel's use of disproportionate force in this offensive. The problem is that Israel really has very little choice if it is to defeat the terrorists. This is a classic case of "asymmetrical warfare," in which the weaker side deliberately exploits public sympathy to carry on its attacks. We do need to keep in mind that Israel voluntarily gave up control of Gaza and much of the West Bank in hopes of promoting peace, but most people on the Palestinian side have not reconciled themselves to this idea. Until they do, tragic violence will continue.
The political reasons for the timing of this attack are fairly obvious. The Israelis know very well that they cannot count on steady support from the United States after Barack Obama is inaugurated as president, so they have a strong incentive to use the "window of opportunity" afforded by the presidential transition. In addition, Israelis will go to the polls to choose a new parliament in February, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to reassure voters that he is strongly devoted to maintaining security. He was widely blamed for fumbling the invasion of Lebanon in August 2006, a major strategic setback.