It has been clear for over a year that Israel would wait until after the American elections to launch some act of military aggression, and it was clear, to me, at least, that it would not be directed against Iran, Syria, or Lebanon. It seems likely that Israel had decided to conduct an operation in Gaza before the first rocket was fired from Gaza.
All military actions, indeed, all actions having to do with Gaza, have one goal in mind: the subjugation of the Palestinian people there with minimum cost to Israel. In hasbara speak this is called "protecting Israelis," "defeating terror," "defending national security," even "protecting national honor," but it boils down to the same thing -- Israel cannot be secure if the Palestinians have real independence. That is why Israelis are divided into those who want to subjugate Palestinians by giving them no self-determination and those who want to subjugate them by giving them quasi self-determination in a quasi-state.
I spoke with an expert on the Israeli military shortly after "Operation Cast Lead," and when I told him that many argued that the operation was a reaction to Hamas rocket-fire, he laughed. He said that Hamas rocket-fire was deliberately provoked when Israel broke the cease-fire so that Israel could do a little "spring cleaning," deplete Hamas's arsenal of weapons. He told me that this happens every few years, and that I should expect it to happen in another few years. Israel will assassinate a Hamas leader, Hamas will have to respond (wouldn't Israel, under those circumstances?) and Israel will perform a "clean up" operation. If Hamas is smart and doesn't play into Israel's hands, then Israel will also come out ahead, because it will be weakened in the eyes of the Palestinian public. It's win-win for Israel. That's what having control means.
Since 1967, Israel has occupied Gaza. Since the disengagement -- or more accurately, the "redeployment" -- Israel has effectively controlled Gaza. It has allowed Hamas to wax and wane, at its pleasure, and when it thinks the timing is ripe, it strikes against Hamas.
The only thing that will restrain Israel is world-wide, and especially US and European, condemnation. As always, the only way to advance the cause of peace and justice in this region is through holding Israel to the standards of a decent state, not the rogue state it has long become.
Note to readers: I'm back in the saddle again.