As much as anything else, Operation Protective Edge was arguably the first successful effort by a traditional military power to effectively confront the modern-day challenge of warfare by insurgency. In the process, Israel overcame some of the principal weapons in the insurgent arsenal.
To be sure, as of Tuesday afternoon it was not clear whether the latest cease-fire would stick, though the IDF reportedly was pulling out of Gaza. Nor is it clear to what extent Hamas’s stratagem of initiating war as a means of getting its issues to the negotiating table will prove successful. But there are some valuable lessons that have already been learned.
Hamas was relying on its vast stockpiles of rockets to cause massive casualties and destruction in Israel in order to offset Israel’s conventional military superiority. But the promise of this asymmetrical faceoff didn’t work out for Hamas as it had hoped, thanks to the efficiency of the Iron Dome batteries and the failure of most rockets to do much damage.
In addition, the intelligence resources of the IAF, which controlled the air over Gaza, made for a stunning success rate in targeting rocket launching sites.
Since nothing is static in warfare, the lesson is clear: Iron Dome must be continuously improved to stay ahead of developments in any rocket technology Hamas and Israel’s other enemies might get their hands on.
Hamas had cynically relied on the expected deterrent effect of the inevitable international uproar over the (largely unavoidable) deaths of Palestinian civilians. It appears, however, that Israel was able to accomplish virtually all of its objectives despite the rising tide of international anger over Palestinian casualties. There were few remaining rocket launching targets for IAF or IDF demolition; Hamas’s military infrastructure was substantially degraded; and most if not all of the attack tunnels were destroyed or rendered inoperable.
In the end, Israel sent a loud and clear message that it would not be deterred from doing what it had to, even in the face of Hamas’s contemptible human shield strategy.
The various efforts at arriving at a cease-fire, thwarted by Hamas’s duplicitousness, also taught some lessons. For one thing, it showed Hamas cannot be trusted to keep its word – something to keep in mind as the United States and others go about trying to get Hamas to the negotiating table. It also underscores the folly of negotiating even with the purported moderate Mahmoud Abbas, since he is utterly incapable of credibly guaranteeing compliance on the Palestinian side.
The discovery of Hamas’s extensive tunnel network leading from Gaza into Israel is testament to the ongoing need of an effective and discriminating blockade of Gaza. Construction of the sophisticated underground structures required the diversion of vast amounts of concrete permitted into Gaza for civilian construction. A refinement of that policy is now clearly indicated. As a general proposition, it also is now to be assumed that Hamas leaders will go to the greatest possible lengths to secure whatever materiel they think can be usefully employed in their fight against Israel.
It should also now be quite clear to all that an internationally monitored demilitarization of Gaza must be part of any plan for going forward. No rational person can believe that left to its own devices Hamas would not attempt to rebuild its military strength in preparation for the next round of confrontation with Israel. Allowing Hamas untrammeled power to rebuild its military structure, the tunnels and its rocket stockpiles, is a prescription for disaster.
The discovery of Hamas’s tunnels means it would be prudent to presume that Hizbullah has built or is building its own tunnels, a potential strategic nightmare to which Israel has doubtless already turned its attention.