Two observations about the hostilities that began on Nov. 10:
(1) The old Arab-Israeli wars were military clashes, the recent ones are political clashes. The wars of 1948-49, 1967, and 1973 were life-and-death struggles for the Jewish state. But the wars of 2006, 2008-09, and now 2012 are media events in which Israeli victory on the military battlefield is foreordained and the struggle is to win public opinion. Opedshave replaced bullets, social media have replaced tanks. Will Israel prevail in arguing that its enemy initiated offensive action? Or will those enemies, Hamas or Hezbollah, convince observers that Israel is an illegitimate regime whose recourse to force is criminal? The war must be fought primarily as amedia event.
(2) If Hamas knows it cannot defeat the Israel Defense Forces and will get a bloody nose for its efforts, it obviously has motives other than victory in mind. What might those be? Several come to mind:
- Test the waters in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s reelection.
- Rouse public opinion against Israel and make it pay a price internationally.
- Refute accusations by Palestinian Islamic Jihad that it has abandoned “resistance.”
- Remind the Palestinian Authority, as it seeks statehood at the United Nations, who controls Gaza.
- Rile up Israeli Arabs.
- Preempt Egyptian plans to destroy Gaza tunnels, as Cairo cannot be seen helping Israel in a time of crisis.
(November 15, 2012)
Nov. 16, 2012 update: Readers have suggested a number of other incentives for Hamas to absorb a pounding by the IDF, which I list here along with my responses:
- Distract attention from the Iranian nuclear buildup or the civil war in Syria. But this distraction will last for days or weeks, while the Iranian and Syrian crises last years, so I don’t see that it brings significant benefits.
- Helps Netanyahu in the elections, thereby lessening Labor’s prospects and the possibility of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. That makes good sense but strikes me as a bit too Machiavellian for an organization, Hamas, under acute stress.
- Test the level of Egyptian support. Useful information, but is it worth getting bloodied for this?
About the Author: Daniel Pipes is a world-renowned Middle East and Islam expert. He is President of the Middle East Forum. His articles appear in many newspapers. He received his A.B. (1971) and Ph.D. (1978) from Harvard University and has taught at Harvard, Pepperdine, the U.S. Naval War College, and the University of Chicago. He is a board member of the U.S. Institute of Peace and other institutions. His website is DanielPipes.org.
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