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Gen. Scales said that blunders such as bombing a United Nations compound that included a school pushes world opinion against Israel and stymies its objective of separating Hamas from the populace.

“It speaks to the difficulty of taking down a military and command-and-control entity with firepower alone, and No. 2, the difficulty of doing all of this without leaving the perception you are creating civilian casualties,” Gen. Scales said. “God knows, it’s tough, but these guys have had six months of preparation. They’re having a tough time right now. Even given their intelligence dominance they have in the region, it shows what a tough time they are having.”

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in Israel, which publishes a periodic war recap, said the air force has attacked 1,300 targets in 1,500 jet and helicopter sorties.

Israel last launched an incursion against its enemies in 2006, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted an air war on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. But the operation fell well short of its stated objective of ridding the area of Hezbollah fighters.

This time, Tel Aviv is more cautious in stating its endgame.

At the National Press Club, Mr. Meridor declined to say when the operation might end or its specific objectives beyond stopping the rocket attacks. The hope, he said, is “to create conditions where a new equation could be created, because the current situation, as I said, where on the one side, Israelis are under fire and, on the other side, people are allowed to go uninterrupted making the fire - this cannot continue.”

Foreign Policy magazine reported that during an appearance Jan. 6, at George Washington University, Mr. Meridor said, “We have no grand political scheme.”

In this operation, the IDF has a big geographic advantage. Lebanon shares a long eastern border with Syria, from which Hezbollah can obtain arms and to which it retreated until the air strikes ended.

The Gaza Strip, on the other hand, is a relatively narrow stretch of land virtually surrounded by Israeli sea and land power, except for a small border with Egypt. Israel’s combined checkpoints, sea patrols and satellite surveillance can cut off Hamas from its allies. Hamas’ security force is estimated at 20,000; its weapons largely confined to small arms, grenade launchers, rockets and short-range missiles.

“Hamas and Hezbollah are profoundly different beasts,” write Thomas Donnelly and Danielle Pletka, analysts at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. “While neither is really the ‘non-state actor’ as popularly understood, Hezbollah is a much more robust and statelike organization, while Hamas is only a notch above its roots as a terrorist group, and has failed to capitalize on its control of quasi-independent Gaza to organize or modernize.”