There are three different possible reasons for this dramatic, unprecedented and unprovoked escalation in Gaza, which began in Zeitun neighborhood in Gaza City and continued in Rafah.
The first and most important is internal Israeli politics. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently experienced two defeats that affected his political standing. The first was the defeat of his "unilateral disengagement" proposal in the Likud party referendum. The second defeat was the success of the Palestinian resistance in Zeitun and later in Rafah in blowing up two military armored vehicles and killing 11 Israeli soldiers. Those attacks were a political blow to Sharon since he had been trying to pass off the impression that a string of high-level assassinations in Gaza were successful in overcoming the Palestinian resistance. Further, the attacks were carried out in the occupied territories and against soldiers, not civilians, meaning that Israel was not afforded the usual sympathy–and matching criticism of Palestinians–it receives after attacks on civilians.
A second reason for this escalation is simply the reigning spirit of revenge. These incursions were marked by their brutality and savagery, out of proportion to their supposed military aims. Most of the 50 people killed over these three days were unarmed civilians, and an inordinate number of them were children. The destruction to infrastructure appears to have been unnecessary, and included the complete debilitation of the power and water networks in the area. Eyewitness accounts tell of the random demolition of groups of homes far from the border that Israel keeps telling us it is trying to protect.
The third possible explanation for this escalation is the laying of the groundwork for the possible implementation of "version two" of Sharon’s plan, which includes working out multilateral arrangements on the Egyptian-Palestinian border. In sum, however, this "preparation" is simply part of an ongoing Sharon strategy of using the Israeli military and resorting to force and violence to terrorize the Palestinian people and leadership. Really, what this Israeli government is trying to do is to wreck the morale of the Palestinian people in such a way that it is able to impose the kind of political solution that Israel wants and Palestinians do not.
The conclusion that can be drawn from this bloody week in Gaza, whether we are talking about the Israeli incursions, demolitions of homes and killing of innocents, or the Palestinian attack on Israeli soldiers there, is that peace and security cannot be achieved by violence and force. Pressure will only produce explosions. Peace, security and a political solution based in dignity can only be achieved if the two sides accept to replace the strategy of violence with peaceful negotiations that are based on international law, rather than on exploitation of the balance of power.