A few very interesting articles summarizing the recent events between Israel and Hamas are now being published:
At the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, it is fair to say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally won the war he set out to fight – but not, perhaps, the war the Israeli public expected him to fight.
Signs of political danger for the prime minister are multiplying.
The prime minister’s public backing hasdropped precipitously, from a high of 82% on July 23, shortly after the start of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, to 38% on Monday, after 49 long days of rocket fire.
Meanwhile, his critics span the political spectrum. His most vocal critics are not in the opposition, but sit in his inner security cabinet – with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett slamming the prime minister’s ceasefire talks in Egypt as “negotiating with terrorists,” even as Bennett’s Jewish Home party saw its popularity rise by 50%, from 12 seats in the current Knesset to the equivalent of 18 seats in wartime opinion polls.
“Quiet is always preferable to fire, but for God’s sake, we went through all this just to get back to the understandings from [2012’s Operation] Pillar of Defense?” lamented Labor whip Eitan Cabel.
The war that was won
Netanyahu did not set out on July 8 to uproot Hamas – for two reasons. First, he believes time is on Israel’s side. Hamas is mismanaging Gaza into economic and political oblivion (even those who blame Gaza’s dire condition squarely on Israel have trouble defending Hamas’s decision to drag Gaza’s economy and last open border into the Egyptian civil war, leading to the huge blow caused by the shuttering of that border over the past year). Hamas’s permanent belligerency also forms Exhibit A in Netanyahu’s explanations to the West as to why his security demands in the West Bank are so high.
Instead of the classic, decisive Western approach, Netanyahu opted for one more suited to the irregular, psychological nature of Hamas’s style of war. Hamas seeks to change Israeli behavior by terrorizing Israelis; Israel, then, has sought to demonstrate to Hamas that none of its planned “force multipliers” – international pressure on Israel due to civilian deaths, domestic political pressure to end the conflict from rocket-battered Israeli civilians – could protect the organization. Israel could operate in Gaza, Netanyahu sought to demonstrate, with no meaningful political or international constraints, dealing pain to Hamas at its leisure and escalating at will.
For 50 long days, Israel struck at thousands of targets across the Gaza Strip. It escalated at will, surprising Hamas with a sustained ground incursion, and deescalated at will. It accepted all ceasefires, but then upped the tempo of attack when Hamas rejected or broke them. It bombed rocket launch sites even when they were buried in dense urban areas – legal under the laws of war, but profoundly unpalatable to global opinion. It brought down apartment buildings containing Hamas command centers without even bothering to explain itself.
Israel showed it was better at Hamas’s own forms of fighting than Hamas’s own fighters. In tunnels and compounds built by Hamas expressly for the purpose of doing as much damage as possible to IDF forces, Hamas probably lost about 10 fighters to every Israeli soldier it managed to kill. (Israel and Hamas obviously disagree on the numbers of Hamas dead, but third-party death toll reports suggest that scale of disparity in the ground fighting.)
In the final days of the war, as apartment buildings started to fall and its most senior commanders began to die in airstrikes, Hamas faced the start of real resistance from Gazans that led it to carry out dozens of panicked executions of “collaborators.”
And in the ceasefire, Netanyahu cemented this strategy. All reports of the ceasefire’s stipulations indicate that Hamas received none of its “preconditions” for stopping the shooting. No Palestinian prisoners were released. The border crossings will only open under PA auspices – an idea actually put forth by Israel early in the conflict. No seaport, no free flow of dual-use construction materials.
To be sure, no one in Israel expects Hamas to accept Israel’s demand for demilitarization, and thus no agreed-upon ceasefire is likely to emerge from Cairo. But even if the sides remain in a formal state of belligerency, that only sustains the dire pressure on Hamas. Both ideologically and financially, the group is ill-equipped for the work of rehabilitating the devastated civilian life of Gaza. And as long as an armed (and presumably rearming) Hamas remains in control, the Israeli-Egyptian siege will remain in place as well.
In the end, Netanyahu believes, patience and sustained pressure will destroy Hamas by demonstrating, first and foremost to Gaza’s own beleaguered population, the link between Gaza’s suffering and Hamas’s belligerency.
This gap is starting to have political consequences for Netanyahu. The growing chorus of critics, and the plummeting of Netanyahu’s approval rating, show the extent of the disparity between the government’s Gaza strategy and the nation’s expectations.
Don’t be fooled. Hamas has capitulated to a ceasefire without any of its promised achievements. But Israel, too, will be a loser unless it changes its position on Mahmoud Abbas
As expected, minutes after the Palestinian-Egyptian announcement of a ceasefire in the conflict with Israel, Hamas leaders took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate “victory.” The same cruel and cynical Hamas leaders, who had led Gazans to one of the worst catastrophes the Strip has known, hailed their achievements and successes.
Like a choir that had been practicing for weeks, down there in the tunnels and the bunkers, they held forth about the resilience of the Palestinian people and about their own wonderful organization that had succeeded in hitting the Zionists.
A few hours later the Hamas military wing published a statement “allowing the settlers who live around Gaza to return to their homes.” That announcement did not refer to the tens of thousands of Palestinians who, thanks to Hamas, have no homes to return to in Gaza.
Hamas has been humiliatingly defeated. There is no other way of describing the ceasefire terms. There is no need to be dismayed by the manufactured scenes of celebration on the Palestinian side. There is also no need to be too bothered by critics from left and right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who are already claiming that Israel strengthened Hamas and that it has the upper hand.
Hamas’s defeat lies in the area it counts as most important. With all due respect to the international community, or to al-Jazeera which emerged as the Hamas propaganda arm, what interests Hamas is public opinion in Gaza and in the West Bank. Time and again its leaders — including military wing chief Muhammad Deif, of whom it is not clear what remains after the IDF airstrike that targeted his home — bragged and made promises to the Gaza public that this conflict would continue until the siege was lifted. And until the re-arrested prisoners from the Shalit deal were released. And until an airport was opened. In their enthusiasm for these causes, they cost hundreds of thousands of Palestinians their homes. Two thousand, one hundred and forty-four men, women and children who were killed in a war that they were assured by Hamas simply had to continue until those goals were achieved. The Hamas leadership swore that without a seaport (getting the Rafah border crossing reopened was not deemed a sufficient achievement because it is controlled by the Egyptians) the rockets would continue to fall on Sderot and Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and Netivot.
In a frontal attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman voiced his opposition Wednesday to Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas, arguing that Israel should have rooted out the Gaza-based terror organization rather than sign an agreement with “contemptible murderers.”
In a statement posted to his Facebook page, Liberman urged the Israeli government to “free the Middle East and the Palestinians from the threat of Hamas,” emphasizing that Israel must fight the terror organization “without compromises.”
“So long as Hamas controls Gaza, we cannot guarantee safety for the citizens of Israel and we cannot reach a political arrangement,” he said.
“Hamas is not a partner for any sort of deal, neither a diplomatic [agreement] nor a security [agreement]. We cannot trust contemptible murderers. Therefore, we oppose the ceasefire, under which Hamas will be able to continue to become stronger and wage another campaign against Israel at its convenience.”
He declared that Israel must ensure Hamas doesn’t benefit from the truce, and asserted that the attack tunnels and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip will remain a threat to Israel “as long as the Hamas regime is not overthrown.”
In the final days of Operation Protective Edge, Liberman, along with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, publicly pressed Netanyahu to take a tougher stance against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, Bennett reportedly expressed displeasure with Netanyahu for not allowing the security cabinet to vote on the Egyptian truce proposal before it was officially endorsed by the government. A number of cabinet ministers were thought to have been likely to vote against the move.
Last week, before the ceasefire took effect, Liberman said Israel’s main objective in its offensive against Hamas must be to defeat the Islamist terror organization and render the group incapable of orchestrating any further attacks against the Jewish state
“Defeat means that Hamas has no ability to fire missiles, produce rockets or restore tunnels,” he said, arguing that such a goal was entirely realistic.
IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz chimed in that if Hamas were as successful as it boasted of being, it would not have “begged” for a truce on Israel’s terms.
“If Hamas agreed to or begged for a truce, even after three-four days of … such effective mortar attacks, we have to ask, why agree to beg for a truce? I mean, is the truce really what Hamas was planning?” Almoz asked sarcastically, suggesting that the terrorist organization was driven to agree to the terms of the truce due to its weak position.
The third Gaza War in six years appears to have ended in another sort of tie, with both Israel and Hamas claiming the upper hand. Their questionable achievements have come at a big price, especially for Palestinians in Gaza.
In a sense, Israel got what it wanted: Hamas stopped firing rockets in exchange for mostly vague promises and future talks. But the cost to Israel was huge: Beyond the 70 people killed — all but six of them soldiers — the economy has been set back, the tourism season destroyed, its people rattled for 50 days and its global standing pummeled by images of devastation in Gaza.
For the moment, Israel has promised to open border crossings with Gaza to a degree, something it does intermittently anyway, and to increase access for Gaza fishermen. Hamas’ other demands are to be later discussed: an airport and seaport, prisoner releases, salaries for its thousands of civil servants and the opening of the Rafah crossing to Egypt. Israel will ask for demilitarizing Gaza. Little is likely to be resolved anytime soon.
For 50 days, Hamas stuck to its rockets. Israel started with carefully targeted destruction of sites, but steadily escalated its strikes. It razed neighborhoods and killed top militants. This week, Israel destroyed whole apartment towers. Hamas’ fight was at first genuinely supported by Gazans desperate for an end to the embargo of the strip by Israel and Egypt — a policy largely meant to squeeze out Hamas. But in the end, probably sensing the population couldn’t take more, Hamas accepted a deal that does not differ much from the first Egyptian ceasefire proposal offered in mid-July and accepted then by Israel. The outcome suggests Israel’s use of devastating force achieved its aims.