Originally published at Rubin Reports.
Naturally the question of who won any given war preoccupies people’s minds. And I’m amused by those who think that Hamas won the recent conflict. Winning has to mean something real, not just bragging to reassure oneself.
Let’s begin by examining the causes and goals of each side. Hamas’s goal was to be able to attack Israel as much as it wanted without significant retaliation. This time, as in late 2008, the war began because Hamas escalated the level of its attacks on Israel to unacceptable levels (more on that phrase in a moment). The same might be said of Hizballah in 2006.
Israel’s goal was to force Hamas to the lowest possible level of attacks and to make such attacks as ineffective as possible. Incidentally, that was also Israel’s strategy in dealing with the PLO. Attempts to “solve” the problem once and for all, varying from the 1982 invasion of Lebanon to the Oslo peace process of the 1990s didn’t work too well.
Nevertheless, Israel was able to achieve its more limited aim against Hamas in the later 2008-early 2009 campaign to gain four years of relative quiet. With Hizballah, this goal has now held for six years. That’s not bad given the reality of contemporary international politics and the Middle Eastern situation, both of which keep Israel from gaining a “total victory.”
Ideally, of course, there is no good reason that the world ensure the survival of a terrorist, totalitarian, illegal, and genocide-oriented regime in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless, that is the reality. If the idea of Israel going in on the ground into the Gaza Strip provoked so much international horror, imagine the reaction to Israel overthrowing Hamas altogether.
And for Israel to overthrow Hamas it would either have to govern the Gaza Strip itself, restarting the whole post-1967 process and facing daily gun battles there or to turn over the territory to someone else. Since the Palestinian Authority isn’t interested in such an arrangement and is incapable of even making a serious effort to overthrow Hamas nobody else is going to do so or take power there.
So Hamas’s survival as ruler of the Gaza Strip was not some victory in a war that lasted a little over a week but is guaranteed in effect by the international and regional order. Can Hamas continue to violate the ceasefire? Of course, because Israel’s only way of enforcing it is military retaliation and now, as has been true for the last five years, Israel has to consider how to do each one without being blamed for a breakdown in the ceasefire. That won’t stop Israel from hitting back with the goal of minimizing Hamas’s attacks.
After these two significant factors–which both existed beforehand–it’s all downhill for Hamas. Given the destruction of its weaponry, Hamas is less able to attack than it had been and while every Hamas leader denies it, the vision of their colleagues getting killed does have a deterrent effect on their boldness.
The amount of regional support Hamas received during the recent war was remarkably low. The anti-Islamist Arab states wanted Hamas to lose. Iran cheered and sent missiles which is quite significant but only gets you so far. The Arab street didn’t do much; Syria’s regime is busy with the civil war; Iraq is for all practical purposes out of the conflict. Whatever lip service it gives, the Shia Islamist Hizballah didn’t lift a trigger finger to help Sunni Islamist Hamas.
It was these factors that led Fareed Zaharia, the influential American commentator—no friend of Israel—who has Obama’s ear to write a Washington Post piece entitled, “Israel dominates the new Middle East.”
As for Egypt, while the Muslim Brotherhood regime is 100 percent pro-Hamas, it isn’t going to be dictated to by its much smaller brother. The Egyptian government has bigger fish to fry. It is busy consolidating its dictatorship and reeling in almost $10 billion in foreign aid.
Hamas didn’t consult Cairo over the escalation that led to this war. Equally bad, Hamas has become entangled with small jihadist groups that attack both Egypt and Israel. Naturally, the Cairo government doesn’t care if Israel is the only target but reacts strongly to being hit itself. So before the escalation the Egyptian government was angry at Hamas.