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Israel is expected to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, aiming to eliminate Hamas


Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says his country will, quote, "crush and destroy the Hamas militants responsible for last week's attack on Israel." But previous Israeli military operations in Gaza have only inflicted temporary setbacks on the group. NPR's Greg Myre, who's covered fighting in Gaza, joins us. Greg, thanks for being with us.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with - what do we know about the situation in Gaza right now?

MYRE: Well, Israel is telling Palestinian civilians to move to the southern part of Gaza, warning that a major military operation will be coming soon in the north of Gaza, the territory closest to Israeli communities. Now, thousands of these Palestinians are moving to the south, but many are remaining in their homes in the north. Israel is already conducting punishing airstrikes throughout Gaza, and large numbers of troops and armored vehicles are assembled just outside Gaza's border fence.

SIMON: We know that the Israeli military has a history of operating in Gaza. What should we keep in mind about these past incursions?

MYRE: So the Israeli troops and civilians pulled out of Gaza back in 2005, after being there nearly four decades. Since then, Israeli forces have reentered the territory several times. The largest operation was 2014, and that lasted seven weeks. It was very bloody, and it dealt Hamas a major setback. But Hamas has rebuilt. And, you know, Scott, here we are just nine years later, and the group just unleashed its deadliest assault ever on Israel. So the question is really whether Israel can deliver a blow to permanently weaken or cripple Hamas and not just a temporary one.

SIMON: Let's say that Israel destroys and - I don't want to use euphemisms - kills most Hamas militants and blows up their weapons. Would Hamas still remain the dominant force in Gaza?

MYRE: Well, certainly possible and maybe even likely. Hamas says it has a political wing and a military wing that operate independently. And Israel says all of Hamas is dedicated to destroying Israel. But these Israeli military operations that we've seen in the past have focused on the Hamas militants, rather than the Hamas political leaders. Israel has effectively tolerated Hamas political leaders, hoping they'd focus on running the territory, providing basic services. But now Israel says it wants to destroy all of Hamas. And this is a major undertaking complicated by the fact that Hamas is believed to be holding about 150 hostages. Paul Salem, head of the Middle East Institute in Washington, said Israel may not be able to achieve its goals and at some point may have to accept some sort of continued Hamas presence in Gaza.

PAUL SALEM: Israel might feel, well, you know, we made them pay enough of a price. We've secured our border enough. Now let's get our people back. Let's negotiate new rules of the game. So there is a way to do this. But the moment is not now.

SIMON: If Hamas were to be removed from power, Greg, who could take over in Gaza?

MYRE: You know, it's really not clear. Israel doesn't appear interested at this point in a full-fledged occupation with troops in Gaza for the long term. But there aren't other obvious options. Again, Paul Salem.

SALEM: But somebody to come and step in and backstop an Israeli invasion after, you know, 10,000 Palestinians have been killed - nobody's interested in doing that. This is really an Israeli-Palestinian problem. Nobody's going to step in and shoulder that burden.

MYRE: So even as Israel prepares for a military operation, it needs to figure out what comes afterward. And there's no clear answer.

SIMON: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks so much for being with us.

MYRE: Sure thing, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.