TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel has a long and largely unsuccessful history of sending ground forces into Palestinian and Lebanese cities. Its forces have either gotten bogged down or sustained heavy casualties, without quelling violent groups or halting attacks for good.
The most recent example is the 2006 war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, who fought mighty Israel to a draw. But that conflict also spawned a concept that could be applied in Gaza — an international force.
Israel launched a massive land invasion of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, but its reluctance to send infantry and armored units into Gaza this time was palpable. Ex-generals and analysts warned that an operation big enough to stop the daily rocket barrages from Gaza would require large masses of forces and result in high casualties on both sides.
Israel insists it has no intention of recapturing the Gaza Strip after pulling its army and settlements out of the territory in 2005. Such an operation would require sweeps through cities and refugee camps, house-to-house combat and mass destruction, while leaving Israel's soldiers as easy targets for grenades, mortars, booby traps and even suicide bombers.
Israel does not have the stomach for such military casualties and past experience has shown that world opinion would not allow Israel to kill and injure thousands of Palestinians in an effort to clean out Gaza down to the last militant and rocket.
That leaves the formula that has been tried in the past and failed — a limited offensive, taking control of northern Gaza, the area where militants generally fire rockets at Israel. That has halted the rocket barrages as long as the Israeli forces are there but the militants simply resume their volleys on the heels of the withdrawing soldiers.
Israel frequently does not dictate how long it will stay.
In the past, Israeli ground offensives have been cut short when an errant shell or missile hit a civilian center, killing and wounding women and children, leading to an international outcry that forced Israel to stand down.
In 1996, an invasion of southern Lebanon to quell militant rocket fire at northern Israel was aborted after an artillery shell hit a camp of villagers next to a U.N. post, killing about 100 people.
In November 2006, Israeli forces withdrew from northern Gaza after a shell hit a house, killing 18 members of a family, including eight children, setting off a world outcry. Rocket fire at Israel resumed immediately.
Even when Israel keeps its forces in the field for a longer time, the outcome is not necessarily as desired.
Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, ostensibly to push Palestinian militants away from the border. The real plan, as revealed later, was to install a pro-Israel government in Beirut. That failed, but Israeli forces remained in large parts of Lebanon until 1985 and in south Lebanon until 2000.
The result of that long occupation was the creation of the Hezbollah. In periodic flareups, Hezbollah fired rockets at Israel and the Israelis fired back with artillery and airstrikes.
In July 2006, after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border, killed three soldiers and captured two others, Israel ordered a full-scale military operation, starting with airstrikes all over Lebanon and ending with a ground operation — a similar formula to the current Gaza campaign.
The well-entrenched Lebanese guerrillas inflicted painful casualties on the Israelis and rained almost 4,000 rockets on Israel in a war that an Israeli commission of inquiry castigated as hastily approved, faultily planned and badly fought. Israelis consider the 2006 Lebanon war a blot on their military record.
But in a key move with implications for today, the U.N. Security Council stepped in with a resolution that sent a beefed-up peace force to south Lebanon, with a mandate of keeping the area clear of arms and explosives.
While Israel charges that Hezbollah has rearmed and retaken its old positions, the precedent could be applied in Gaza — and one of Israel's stated goals in its current operation is to change the reality on the ground.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni flew to Paris on Thursday to offer input on international efforts for a cease-fire. Next, a parade of diplomats is to come through Jerusalem, trying to end the Gaza conflict. Israel has let it be known that it wants international monitoring.
Part of any new truce arrangement would require Israel to keep its border crossings open to resupply Gaza with vital products like food, fuel and medicine, a major achievement for Gaza's Hamas regime.
At this point, Israel is not pushing for an armed peacekeeping force. But if it ends up with any international contingent, including one carrying a mandate to stop Gaza militants from firing rockets — Israel could chalk up a significant gain from its offensive.
AP correspondent Mark Lavie has covered the Middle East since 1972.