There will be times in future when Cairo will give Hamas full backing but this wasn’t one of them. Moreover, it seems that the Egyptian government has committed itself to crack down more on arms’ imports across the Egypt-Gaza border. Of course, that promise might well not be kept—if only for the bribes paid to Egyptian military officers by smugglers—but retaining the status quo is hardly a victory for Hamas.
The supposed greatest military achievement of Hamas was sending missiles in the direction of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Yet this was accomplished by taking out most or all of the explosives in order to extend the range. The Iron Dome system shot down most of these and little damage was done.
By the end of the war, Hamas was apparently out of missiles (though not shorter-range rockets). It had lost a lot of cadre and needs to rebuild part of its infrastructure and most of its arsenal. Israel faces no such problems. In addition, Israel continues to prosper and advance while the Gaza Strip, in part thanks to Hamas’s own strategy, continues to stagnate.
Of course, Hamas did manage to terrorize a million Israelis in the south and close down normal life there. This is an accomplishment but something Hamas also did in 2008-2009 with more effectiveness since there was no real anti-missile defense. Everyone knows that Hamas can do this.
How does that advance Hamas’s cause of wiping Israel off the map?
And Hamas is no closer to taking over the West Bank than it’s been in the past, in no small part because of Israel’s behind-the-scenes efforts. Also of tremendous significance is the fact that the war did not increase Hamas’s legitimacy with the West. If anything, the opposite is true. While one can find plenty of objectionable Western media coverage, it was less hostile to Israel than in 2006 or 2008-2009. Part of the gain is due to the fact that the Israeli government and military have finally learned how to use social media effectively.
At any rate, no one in the West is rushing to have diplomatic relations with Hamas or help it out beyond letting it continue to exist and, of course, terrorize the people of the Gaza Strip and teach children to grow up to be terrorists. It is a disgusting situation but not one amenable to change by Israeli action.
So Israel won the war. The problem is that the word “won” has limited significance and “winning” doesn’t remove the problem and bring long-term peace. That, however, is in the nature of the situation and not in the war itself.This inability to obtain total victory is characteristic of Israel’s strategic situation for reasons totally extraneous to Israel and which virtually everyone in the country understands, though many foreign observers don’t. Israel’s big victories in the 1967 and 1973 war did not end the conflict or stop attempts by terrorists to attack into the country. The goal is to discourage them and make it harder for them to succeed.As a result, Israelis can go about their lives and the country can prosper. Sixty-four years of effort have devastated Israels enemies but brought them not one step closer to wiping it off the map.
The danger regarding the Gaza Strip is longer-term. As the Brotherhood consolidates control over Egypt and if a Muslim Brotherhood regime comes to power in Syria, there might come a day when Hamas has real support from two powerful Arab states plus Iran. The situation might then resemble that which Israel faced from Arab nationalist governments in the 1950s-1980s period.
Israel’s goal, then, is also to deter even the most hostile, hate-filled Egyptian Islamist regime from going too far in trying to implement the Muslim Brotherhood’s genocide program. Its cheering Hamas is not the problem. The issue is how much it will help Hamas and, even more important, whether it will some day fight alongside it. Has this deterrence been increased by the recent war?
Apparently, yes, and that is a very important outcome. Israel has reminded Egypt of its own power; Hamas has showed its Egyptian sponsor that it was not a good team player.
Perhaps the better way to put it is that Israel won the battle but the war goes on, as indeed it has for our entire lifetimes.