Ground invasion of Gaza by Israel more likely as rocket attacks continue

Hamas HQ hit on fourth day of Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

Speculation is growing that a ground invasion by Israel in Gaza is becoming increasingly likely. The BBC is reporting that Israel has put 75,000 reservists on stand-by, and deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon told CNN that an invasion could happen before the end of the weekend:

"We don't want to get into Gaza if we don't have to. But if they keep firing at us … a ground operation is still on the cards," he said. "If we see in the next 24 to 36 hours more rockets launched at us, I think that would be the trigger."

Watch his interview in full:

Israeli air strikes are continuing on the Gaza strip. Reuters reports that the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh - where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister - was hit, as was the house of a Hamas leader in Jabaliya, north of Gaza City.

Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, called the attacks on Gaza "a blatant aggression against humanity" and said that "Egypt will not leave Gaza on its own". President Obama has praised Egypt's efforts to "deescalate" the tensions in the region.

The hundreds of tunnels in the south of Gaza, which are used to smuggle food, fuel and weapons from Egypt, have also been targeted by Israeli air strikes, the Guardian reports. The Israeli military say that over 800 targets have been struck since the operation began (Associated Press). It's thought that about 500 rockets have been fired towards Israel.

At least 38 Palestinians and three Israelis have died since Israel killed Hamas's military commander on Wednesday.

A plume of smoke rises over Gaza during an Israeli air strike, as seen from Sderot. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR