ISRAEL'S GAZA WAR: WHO WON AND WHO LOST?
In a war that has killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis, caused large-scale physical ruin in Gaza, and disrupted life for thousands of people in southern Israel, it is impossible to say that either side has won. Arguably, both sides are back at square one: their ceasefire agreement seems to be a “quiet-for-quiet” arrangement similar to the truce that ended their last war in 2012, which both sides later broke. Discussion of key demands made by the Palestinians – a new seaport, the release of prisoners, the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian trade and movement blockade on Gaza – have been put off for talks in a month’s time, which will only go ahead if calm is maintained. Still, it is possible to talk about who did well and who emerged weaker in this conflict.John Reed, "War in Gaza: winners and losers". The Financial Times. 27 August 2014, in www.ft.com. It seems to be a truism, that no war which Israel has engaged in since the Six-Day War of June 1967, has seen an absolute Israeli military and political victory. The latest Gaza War, the third since 2009, appears to follow this truism to a 't'. On the face of it, the only possible Israeli unalloyed positive goal which results from this conflict, is the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, appears to be politically weakened by the fact that Hamas was not seen to be defeated by Israel. Of course, the weakening of Abbas was not (to put it mildly) an openly declared Israeli goal prior to the conflict. But de facto, it was certainly the case that the formation of a unity government between Abbas and Hamas' leadership in Gaza, was an event which Israeli leaders were virulently opposed to. And one does not have to be of a conspiratorial mind-set, to believe that part and parcel of the Israeli actions which were taken immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities, was for purposes of dragging Hamas into another Gaza War with Israel 1. With all that being said, one cannot gainsay the fact that Israel was within its rights to respond to Hamas missile strikes on Israeli towns and cities. Thankfully, most of which failed to reach their target due to the Israeli Iron Dome system. One may merely point out is that the way that Israel choose to fight this latest Gaza War, a war which it uniquely had a positive international framework to so conduct, had the end result of allowing Hamas to claim a moral and indeed political victory by virtue of not being defeated by Israel. And the only means of 'defeating' Hamas would be to oust it from power by totally reoccupying the entirety of Gaza and destroying the entire Hamas political and military leadership and cadres. With all that implies in terms of tens of thousands of civilian deaths. And of course hundreds of Israeli military losses. Given the price of victory, one is not surprised that Israel did not choose to 'defeat' Hamas. One is merely surprised that Israel choose once again to go to war in the first place. 1. On this thesis, see: Nathan Thrall, "Hamas's Chances". The London Review of Books. 21 August 2014, in www.lrb.co.uk.WinnersHamas: Before Protective Edge, Gaza’s ruling Islamist movement was in a corner. It was politically isolated, bankrupt, unable to pay its civil servants and forced by circumstances to reconcile with arch-rival Fatah. In this context, the war was a welcome development. Hamas, for the third time in five years, confronted one of the world’s best armies and managed to hold on to power, calculating correctly that Israel would never embark on a longer and bloodier ground war in order to topple it. Hamas rockets, built painstakingly over years by blockade-busting tactics, sent people across Israel running into shelters, killing six civilians and bringing most flights at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport to a halt for two days in July. Although much of Hamas’s arsenal is now depleted and many of its tunnels destroyed, fighting Israel to another ceasefire plays as a victory for many of its supporters. As after Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012, Hamas can begin firing again if it chooses. Granted, when the dust settles from this conflict and its spoils and destruction become clearer to Gazans, they could potentially turn on Hamas. There is no sign of this happening yet, however. Israeli Economy Minister and head of the far-right Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett, addresses the Foreign Press Association, which represents the international news media in Israel, on April 27, 2014 in Jerusalem. The Israeli right: During the war, Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing rivals often looked like they were campaigning for the next election as they openly rounded on the prime minister for not taking tougher steps against Hamas. Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right nationalist foreign minister, led calls to reoccupy Gaza, an undertaking most security analysts and Mr Netanyahu himself thought would be riddled with unacceptable risks. Naftali Bennett called for an end to truce talks with Hamas, which he called a “murderous terrorist organisation”, and was among the cabinet ministers who reportedly called for a vote by Mr Netanyahu’s inner circle of security advisers on Tuesday’s ceasefire proposal (in the end, none was held).... Iron Dome: Israel’s US-funded missile shield acquitted itself during the conflict, again showing itself as a game-changing strategic asset. Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 4,600 rockets and mortars towards Israeli towns and cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Only six civilians died, mostly in communities adjacent to the Gaza border, where Iron Dome is unable to respond fast enough. According to Israel’s air force, Iron Dome had a 90 per cent success rate in intercepting the rockets it sought to destroy. Rafael, the Israeli company that makes Iron Dome, says it has noted “increased interest” in its product because of Protective Edge. While the company does not discuss potential customers, it can be speculated that the missile shield could find customers in places under similar short-range missile threat, such as South Korea or central Europe.LosersBenjamin Netanyahu: Israel’s prime minister began the war with overwhelming support, both for himself, and for the operation’s goals of weakening Hamas and halting rocket fire. His popularity peaked when Israel sent troops into Gaza to destroy the tunnels Hamas use to funnel men and material. But as the war ground on, lasting seven weeks in all, Mr Netanyahu faced sharp criticism from both ends of the political spectrum for seemingly allowing Hamas to call the shots in successive ceasefire agreements that were later broken by the group. Israel’s leader also looked weak within his own cabinet, with ministers second-guessing him via media leaks and open dissent over his conduct of the war. A backlash also formed in southern Israel, where mortar and rocket fire was heaviest. Israeli pundits say Operation Protective Edge marked the start of Israel’s next electoral campaign. Mahmoud Abbas: The Palestinian president could conceivably come out of this war as a winner, if his project of reconciling with Hamas and holding elections to install a unity government to rule in the both West Bank and Gaza goes ahead. Nr Abbas at times cut a statesmanlike figure during the conflict, personally making the announcement of Tuesday’s ceasefire in a televised address. But more often, the Palestinian leader and his West Bank colleagues appeared marginal as the people of Gaza and their Hamas leaders paid a heavy price in blood. Coming months will show whether the Palestinian leader can keep the upper hand over a people frustrated by what they see as Israeli obstructionism on peace and poor economic prospects. Noisy celebrations of the ceasefire in occupied East Jerusalem suggested that Hamas’s strategy of armed struggle has many admirers beyond Gaza.