Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Israel and Hamas: Who won the last round?

Operation Pillar of Defense lasted eight days, during which Israel and Hamas exchanged numerous blows. This “boxing match” was the latest round of violence between Israel and the militant organizations based in Gaza, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and a few smaller factions. During eight long days, Hamas and its allies fired rockets and mortars into Israeli cities, while Israel dropped precision bombs on infrastructure and fired guided missiles at Palestinian militants. With 1500 rockets matched by 1500 air raids, one might wonder “who won this round?” (*)

The main parties who participated in this round were the Hamas, Israel, Egypt and the US. If you “ignore” the dead, the wounded, and those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome , then each party gained “something” from the conflict, but was also forced to pay a price.

Let’s start with Hamas:

'Iron Dome' intercepts a rocket fired on Israeli city
Hamas was quick to declare victory. I suppose in their definition it means they managed to: a) avoid being eliminated by the Israeli army; b) keep firing rockets at Israeli cities. Hamas also received acknowledgement as the de facto government in Gaza; not just by other Arab countries, but by Israel and the US. Both indirectly negotiated with Hamas through Egyptian mediators. Finally, they received some minor relief of the blockade on Gaza.

The Hamas paid a price. A significant portion of their military arsenal was destroyed along with some of their key military leaders. Their key stance of “no compromise” with Israel was impaired after signing a cease fire agreement. Some of their hard core supporters will find it unacceptable, which may create an internal strife. Hamas had a painful realization that they are “alone” in their battle with Israel. None of the Arab countries took action to help them fight Israel. Hezbollah didn’t join the fray, and Iran could only watch the conflict from a distance. Even the Egyptian Muslim Brothers (Hamas parent movement) acted as a restraining force.

What about Israel?

Israelis will keep debating whether Israel “won” or “lost” this round. For some, the only clear win would have been watching Hamas leaders crawl out of their underground bunkers waving little white flags. However accomplishing that would have involved massive destruction in Gaza, hundreds of civilian Palestinian casualties, and dozens of Israeli casualties (civilians and soldiers).  Not to mention the international outcry over supposed “war crimes” performed by Israel in Gaza. All in all, a high price to pay for a small show of Hamas humiliation. 

So what did Israel gain? It got Hamas to agree to a cease fire – an improvement over Hamas “no-compromise” stance of past rounds. More importantly, Israel gained Egypt support and active participation in maintaining peace in Gaza. In spite of the “victory” claims made by Hamas, Israel air raids decimated their military apparatus and caused major damage in Gaza. Meanwhile Israel's 'Iron Dome' intercepted many Hamas-fired rockets preventing major damages to Israeli cities. This should (in theory) decrease Hamas’ appetite for another round of violence in the near future. Last but not least, Israel managed to reach its objectives without a ground assault, avoiding many casualties and a steep diplomatic price.  

Israel paid a price. Hamas managed to fire rockets on key Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. While Israel anti-rocket defense system (“Iron Dome”) performed admirably, the attacks exposed some vulnerability.  Lastly, Israel was forced to take into account international constraints and fight Hamas with a hand tied behind its back.

Where did Egypt end up?

Egypt emerged from the conflict as a key Middle East player. They asserted their role in achieving and maintaining agreements in the region. The Egyptian president, Mohammad Morsi, received accolades, while other “contenders” such as Turkey, Qatar and even Iran had to sit on the sidelines and watch. Egypt also received from the US much needed economic support, but not without paying a price: it can no longer sit idle and watch the Hamas and Israel squabble. It was “encouraged” to play an active role in restraining Hamas, and deal more effectively with arms smuggling from its own territory into Gaza.

Last but not least – the US...

After losing much of its clout in the region post the Iraq invasion and the Arab Spring, the US got to play a significant diplomatic role in the conflict. Once again a US Secretary of State is shuttling between Middle East capitals, power-brokering agreements.  Reminds me of the good old Henry Kissinger days…  But that role came with a price – offering economic support to Egypt, and helping fund Israel anti-rockets system, plus a few more checks we will probably never hear about. A significant price to pay when you’re struggling with budget deficit…

So here we are, thousands of rockets and bombs later. And the final score? Everybody won some and everybody lost some. So why did this round take place? Couldn't the parties simply negotiate ahead of time and avoid the casualties and damages? Or was Carl von Clausewitz right by saying that “War is the continuation of Politics by other means”?  Unfortunately human kind embraced war throughout history. I suppose that as long as people believe they have a chance to gain something by war, they will persist…

(*) Note: I specifically avoided the questions of “who started this round?”, or “will there be future rounds”? Those could be topics of a whole other blog…

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Baruch. I haven't seen anyone else tally the wins and losses for all parties as succinctly.

    Of course, we're talking about political "wins" and "losses," not human ones, where there are no wins.