Q&A: Gaza strikes could be beginning of ground attack

Editor’s Note: Hala Gorani is a CNN International correspondent who has reported from every country in the Middle East including both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. During the Arab Spring upheaval she has reported from Syria, Jordan and Egypt.

Story highlights

Israel says its attack was in response to Hamas rocket attacks

It is the most serious offensive in Gaza since 2009

Israel says contingency plans for a ground attack are in place

CNN  — 

What has caused the Israelis to strike so hard inside Gaza?

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told me Israel felt compelled to respond to what it sees as relentless Palestinian rocket attacks into Southern Israel which terrify civilians and force schools and business closures.

Map: Israel

But the view from Gaza is very different. Palestinians there say that what the Israeli military calls surgical strikes routinely kill civilians and they are cut off from the world with a total land, air and sea blockade.

FAQ: What is Hamas?

Is this a serious escalation of the Israel/Palestinian conflict or just another skirmish?

This is the most serious Israeli offensive on Gaza since early 2009, when an Israeli military ground war killed up to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. The question now is whether this will remain a contained incident or if this will turn into something bigger.

Israel’s military says preparations are being made for a ground offensive, should the need for one arise. The coming days will determine how serious this incident is.

iReport: Photos and video from inside the protests in Israel

Already, we are seeing signs that this Gaza offensive is causing regional rifts. Egypt, which brokered a recent ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, was so angry at the offensive it has recalled its ambassador to Israel.

Opinion: New dangers in familiar Gaza violence

Is there a danger that this will spill into wider turmoil?

Regionally, the Middle East is looking more and more unstable by the week. The tragic Syrian civil war is spilling over into Lebanon, the occupied Golan Heights, Jordan and Turkey. Israel is concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility that it will strike Iranian nuclear facilities are adding to those tensions.

And now Egypt is signaling displeasure with Israel’s Gaza offensive. Will that test its treaties with the Jewish state? There are many moving parts to keep an eye on.

Are you there? Share photos, video but stay safe

What does it mean for the stalled Middle East peace process?

The moribund Middle East peace process is now suffering another setback. Remember, there’s an election next January and some have accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of launching this offensive in order to benefit politically from appearing to take tough action against Hamas.

There are no signs that peace talks between Israel and the Fatah government in the West Bank or any element of Hamas’ leadership is looking likely on any level.