RPT-ANALYSIS-Israel focused on war aims in Gaza

(Repeats analysis from Thursday to wider clients)

JERUSALEM, Jan 16 (Reuters) - The world might be transfixed by scenes of destruction in Gaza, but this cuts little ice with Israelis, grimly focused on achieving their war aims.

Some, such as restoring Israel's military deterrence and badly damaging Hamas's armed capacity, have already been achieved, Israeli analysts and officials say.

Others, such as stopping Hamas rocket fire into Israel and preventing the Islamist movement from rearming via tunnels bored under Gaza's border with Egypt, are still incomplete.

Much will depend on the exact terms of a ceasefire agreement that Egypt is mediating and of arrangements expected to involve Egypt, the United States and European countries, notably Germany, to intercept Hamas weapons shipments, the analysts say.

"We have rehabilitated our deterrence, at least vis a vis Hamas and organisations like it," said former Mossad chief Danny Yatom. "We have hit Hamas's military arm very severely."

Israel's military has pummelled the Gaza Strip for nearly three weeks, killing 1,076 Palestinians and wounding more than 5,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there.

Israel has lost 10 soldiers in the fighting and three civilians killed by rocket fire into southern Israeli towns.

The Israelis have repeatedly bombed Gaza's 15 km (nine mile) border with Egypt -- which they call the Philadelphi corridor -- to demolish tunnels used to ferry in arms and commercial goods.

Once the war is over, they want international guarantees to ensure their Islamist foes cannot replenish their arsenal.

"We don't know yet if the Egyptians will take it upon themselves to block the Philadelphi crossing, or whether Hamas is willing to make a commitment to the Egyptians that there will be a ceasefire for many years," Yatom said.

Israeli analysts said it was too early to tell how the Gaza war would affect the Palestinian power struggle between Hamas and the Fatah faction led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Egypt wants security forces loyal to Abbas's Palestinian Authority to return to Israeli and Egyptian crossings into Gaza.

Hamas drove Abbas's forces out of the coastal territory in June 2007, 18 months after winning a Palestinian election. Lifting an Israeli economic blockade that was tightened after the Hamas takeover is one of the Islamist group's main aims.

"Everyone has been weakened, Hamas and its ostensible rival Abu Mazen (Abbas)," said Mark Heller, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.


Some Israeli officials have predicted a drastic loss of support for Hamas, paving the way eventually for the Palestinian Authority to re-establish control over the Gaza Strip.

"Our information ... is that Hamas has over-played its hand, that it has alienated large sections of the Palestinian street," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.

"On the day after this crisis is over, when the dust settles, Hamas will be facing a very serious problem with the Palestinian people, specifically the population of Gaza."

Hamas, which operates a network of charities, schools and clinics as well as a militia, is deeply embedded in Palestinian society and is unlikely to disappear from Gaza any time soon.

It also seems implausible that Gaza's 1.5 million people would welcome any attempt to restore rule by Palestinian Authority officials perceived as riding back on Israeli tanks.

The full extent of the destruction in Gaza has yet to emerge -- partly because Israel has kept foreign journalists out -- and Israeli analysts predict a harsher international outcry to come.

"When the entire picture will be seen, the ruins, the damage, the corpses, the bodies of children and women, there might be a wave of criticism against Israel," Yatom said.

However, reflecting a common Israeli view, he argued that his country had no choice but to act against Hamas: "We could no longer sit idle when those rockets land on our citizens."

Hamas stepped up rocket fire last month after deciding not to renew a six-month truce with Israel, saying an unremitting Israeli blockade and raids on militants had made it worthless.

The Israeli onslaught has sparked criticism and protests across the world, but polls show domestic opinion is solidly behind the government's decision to unleash the military.

"What is amazing is the unity in public opinion. Even the media is standing behind this operation," said Shmuel Sandler, a professor at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

"What's even more amazing is that the Arab states basically want Hamas to be hit becaus they see a threat in the ideas of Hamas to their own regimes," he added.

Heller said Israelis were quite willing to live with the international hostility it had encountered so far.

"The superficial impression is that the people who are most critical are either Muslims, which is to be expected, or the usual suspects in the liberal media in the West...

"So far, notwithstanding these (Gaza) images, there has been a lot of understanding on the part of Western governments."