When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

The Gaza Trap: One Israeli Soldier Recalls Last Ground War

Israeli soldier preapring to enter Gaza on July 17.
Israeli soldier preapring to enter Gaza on July 17.
Céline Lussato

JERUSALEM — Nobody wanted to believe it. Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet had of course called up reservists and warned the 100,000 inhabitants of Gaza who lived near the border not to stay long.

But for most Israeli political analysts, this had appeared to be mainly an exercise in communications. And everything pointed to their being right in thinking that way.

The Israeli Prime Minister himself showed signs of hesitation and almost of good will towards the Palestinians by accepting Egypt’s successive cease fire offers.

He did deploy his air and naval forces in "Operation Protective Edge" in retaliation for Hamas strikes that had reached as far as the large city of Haifa in the north of Israel. But "Bibi" seemed little inclined to start a ground offensive which would be very risky for soldiers whose death — or worse, abduction — would be traumatic for Israelis.

The experience of Operation Cast Lead, which began in December 2008, still lingers in Israel's memory. Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas and hence one of the most dangerous and unpredictable for combatants in a local war.

Without a military objective

Ethan, a reservist who took part in Operation Cast Lead, recalls the events of five-plus years ago: “To avoid risk to human life, in fact what they sent us on was a punitive operation."

He shares his memories in a Jerusalem café.

"An armed operation has by definition an objective that is not only clearly outlined but is also, in the opinion of the general staff, considered to be attainable," the young war veteran explains. "But what is it in Gaza? There isn’t a single mission there that can be accomplished by a ground offensive."

He recalls how his unit was assigned to a small zone several kilometers west of the Karni crossing, on a hill at an altitude of about 300 meters. "When we got there, all the people who lived there had already cleared out," he said.

Contrary to what he’d thought at the beginning, Ethan’s unit was not there to search, confiscate weapons, and make arrests which would have put the soldiers at considerable risk. “What they expected of us was that we raze the zone. The ground trembled the whole time as houses were destroyed one after the other …"

The young father continues: "And there were indeed traps in some of them, hidden explosives that caused second explosions and tunnels that could have swallowed us up."

The idea was to cause as much damage as possible, to make Hamas understand "don’t play this game with us anymore." But the dangerous nature of the operation led to disgrace."

The army had been given instructions to return quickly and without losses so the rules of engagement were changed. “Anybody on a roof was a legitimate target, for example. So there was no need to warn them or to have proof that they were armed and represented a threat."

The rule "don’t shoot when in doubt" was applied in the inverse. "There, it was: If there’s any doubt, shoot. It was the cause of a lot of civilian deaths but also losses in our ranks down to friendly fire."

It was just the kind of military quagmire that Netanyahu appeared to want to avoid, until Thursday night.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest