Alon Ben-David: We are at the beginning of the second phase of this operation where the idea is to give Hamas a sense of a genuine threat on the regime inside Gaza so we have Gaza encircled by the IDF…. I am not sure that this is a point where we want them to be. I think that Israel is trying to create a more stronger effect of deterrence on the other side so we are not quite there yet, the question I think is if we are going to go to the third phase or the second will suffice to reach those objectives.
Mark Phillips: What's the third phase?
Ben-David: The third phase naturally will be expanding the ground operation. You see the calling up of tens of thousands of reservists. Right now I think there is still genuine desire to avoid that third stage. However, I think if we approach the end of this week without coming close to the objectives set for this operation …
Phillips: Meaning no rockets?
Ben-David: Meaning a ceasefire, a complete ceasefire. A sustainable and long-lasting one. Some international involvement on the issue of preventing smuggling from Egypt into Gaza and not rely on the Egyptians alone in that issue. Some involvement of the Palestinian authorities in the Rafah crossing as well. I think those are the political objectives that Israel has set for this operation and we are not close yet. If you look at today's Egyptian draft for a ceasefire, it is still very far from the objectives set buy the Israeli government. Militarily, I think Israel cannot avoid that phase (casualties). In the next hours or days you will see the Israeli soldiers going more and more into the populated areas because that's where Hamas stays. Will the Israeli public be able to sustain that? That's a question of casualties. So far, in this operation, we have a relatively low number of casualties which the public opinion can bear. You can see the motivation of the reserve soldiers that have been called up. Understanding that this is a just operation and that operation was needed in the light of the reality here around Gaza in the recent years. So, so far I see a strong sense of solidarity, and consensus in the Israeli society for this operation. Naturally as the numbers of casualties will go up, the consensus will be threatened.
Phillips: Do you think that Israel at this stage is looking for a way out? Would this be a good time to stop as a lot of people are calling for it?
Ben-David: I think that right now there is a gap between the public statements and the subtext of those that are putting those initiatives on the table. I think right now the undertone of the messages received from the U.S. from the EU and even from the Egyptians is go and finish the job. Now I am not sure that Israel is willing to pay the price to completely topple Hamas regime in Gaza however I think that the signal that Israel is getting today from the international community is that you still have time to do what you think is necessary, we agree that Hamas has to be restrained but you don't have all the time in the world. That's why I said that buy the end of this week Israel will have to decide whether it goes on and expand the operation or stops where it is.