The discovery of the kidnapped teens' bodies and the ongoing rocket fire in recent days are bringing closer the moment in which Israel may launch a more significant operation in Gaza. Is such an operation indeed necessary? And if it is, what will be its goal?
Neither Israel nor Hamas are interested in an escalation right now. Israel is not interested in it because our only interest in regards to Gaza is security-related, and its purpose is to maintain an ongoing calm. If that can be guaranteed without a wide-scale operation, it may be preferable.
Hamas is not interested in an escalation either, mainly because of its political weakness. Hamas is basically left today without any supporters. Syria and Hezbollah are on the other side, in the Sunni-Shiite conflict, Turkey is preoccupied with itself, Iran is busy with what is taking place in Iraq and, most importantly, Egypt defines Hamas as an enemy and is acting accordingly. The only supporter it has left is Qatar, which has little influence.
In this state of affairs, and precisely in light of the tragic ending of the kidnapping affair, there is a possibility to calm things down even without a major operation. On the other hand, if the exchanges of fire continue and we want to launch a major operation, we'll have to deal with the question of its goal.
The goal of the operation could be one of the following, from the easiest to the hardest: Punishment for the teens' murder; punishment and the creation of renewed deterrence against rocket fire; punishment and achieving deterrence, but mainly dealing a critical blow to Hamas' stockpile of missiles; and bringing down the Hamas rule.
Despite the urge to punish Hamas, a punishment operation in Gaza is unlikely to be effective. It would be preferable to increase the damage caused to Hamas in Judea and Samaria, including destroying the murderers' homes and keeping some of those released in the Shalit deal in prison, thereby creating direct deterrence against the next potential kidnappers.
If we settle for the second goal, like in the case of Operation Pillar of Defense, we have to assume that the achieved deterrence will last for a limited period of time (a year and a half has passed since Operation Pillar of Defense). From the other end, the attempt to achieve the fourth goal may get us entangled in a long operation, while it is not at all clear whether we will be better off with the new government in Gaza on the day after than we were with Hamas.
The third goal, the ones seeking to inflict long and ongoing damage on the rocket arsenal, is the one worth looking into seriously. This goal was not defined in the past two operations (Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense), but the circumstances have changed greatly now.
First of all, this threat, which includes dozens of missiles or more that are capable of hitting Tel Aviv, is more serious that what we knew before, and therefore justifies a deeper operation. Secondly, the diplomatic reality is more convenient for Israel. Because of the teens' murder on the one hand, and what is happening in Syria and Iraq on the other hand, no one in the world will try to prevent us from reaching this achievement at this time.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the route connecting Gaza to Egypt is now blocked by the Egyptians. As opposed to the past, when every damage to Hamas' stockpile of weapons led to the renewed smuggling of even more advanced missiles through Sinai, this time this route is blocked. It's true that Hamas already has its own knowledge, but considerable damage to the existing missiles and to their production facilities in Gaza will make it very difficult on the organization to recover.
Achieving this goal will likely require a certain ground operation, but the risk in using this option will be worthwhile considering the achievement. A sensible definition of the goal is a critical condition for success.
The grim ending of the abduction incident, alongside Hamas' difficult situation in Gaza, create an opportunity for an operation which will achieve a long-lasting strategic result. We should not waste it on an operation solely for the sake of retaliation and punishment.