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 assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.