Thursday, August 28, 2014

Defining Wins & Losses in Mid East Conflicts - Assessing The Israel Gaza Summer Conflict

So weeks of conflict between Hamas's Gaza & Israel seem to be drawing to a close, at least for the short term, with a month long ceasefire in place and seemingly holding. So as we look back, people in Israel and worldwide are asking who won and who lost this war? 

Lets be totally clear - truthfully it is an obscene question because  nobody won. It is not a cliche to say that with modern urban warfare, especially in the Middle East, there are no winners. No longer do the good guys charge up the beach led by John Wayne, toward an inevitable victory, while the locals hide in their homes, emerging with big smiles on their faces to celebrate the American heroes arrival. These days innocent civilians are more often than not caught up in the fighting, and indeed in most Arab conflicts they are the target, not the regrettable "collateral" damage. So lets stop with the moronic talk about winners and losers. Instead lets see who gained the most, who met military goals, and who in the long run has been most hurt by this conflict:
Hamas held victory celebrations in Gaza after the ceasefire announcement a couple of nights ago, but is this just "Pallywood" spin? It seems that even within Hamas, they recognize they have suffered a humiliation - as their negotiator returned from Egypt today, his fellow Hamas officials greeted him by breaking his legs, so clearly they don't think Hamas won anything! Also today, when Ismail Haniyeh, Khaled Mashaal's top deputy in Gaza emerged from his bunker, he suffered an unfortunate medical emergency which we can specukate was an attack or assassination attempt by either disgruntled Hamas members or Gaza residents looking for revenge for the callous way Hamas treated the civilians they should be protecting. 

So do Hamas have anything to celebrate? Well they still exist, and are still running Gaza, at least for now - That in and of itself is a success for them  after they failed miserably to achieve any significant militarily goals: Their aim to cause huge damage to Israeli cities was derailed by the Iron Dome defense system; Their plan for an autumn terror campaign using their 'secret' tunnels from Gaza into Israeli kibbutzim and towns  to slaughter and kidnap Israeli citizens was also completely foiled by the IDF; their weapons stock was massively degraded and they lost both fighters and at the end key senior personnel. 

Hamas can legitimately say that at the end of all the weeks of Israel attempting to take out their ability to fire missiles, they did have some capability left, although how much is debatable. However, the ceasefire agreement that they made in Egypt was essentially the same one they had turned down weeks before - the sense that commentators have is that Hamas were not able to maintain their war much longer and that some people in Gaza were turning on Hamas, which is why Israel's intel seemed to improve so much over the past week. Hamas badly needed the ceasefire and that's why they agreed to terms that had been unthinkable for them not long before. In fact what Hamas agreed to was to stop and basically go back to how things were before the summer - so they achieved no military gains at a great cost to their own military and civil structure. Hamas maintain, as if it's a concession from Israel, that the Gaza border to Israel will now be open to aid, but then those borders were already open to allow aid in to Gaza even during the conflict. Nothing seems to have changed, except that the PA rather than Hamas will be in charge of the Gaza side of the border.

Politically, as the last remaining vestige of the Muslim Brotherhood with any power, Hamas have found themselves isolated from the vast majority of the Arab world - their only support coming from Qatar, and Iran & Turkey (not strictly Arab), while Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others clearly blamed them for the crisis. It is hard to tell if they are still in a power sharing PA government with Fatah, as news of an attempted coup was revealed by Israel a few days ago.

Where Hamas most certainly succeeded was in the PR war - they managed to force the international media embedded in Gaza to act as Hamas agents in their message of "Israel the child Killer", and the editors overseas ignored the obvious and broadcast verbatim these reports.  Sadly there was a ready audience ready to side with Jihadists over the Jewish democratic state, on even the flimsiest of propaganda evidence  and this was followed by an outbreak of antisemitism across Europe which was for Hamas a success. They managed to get the Muslim communities around the world to agree with their position even as the Arab world rejected them. They also found their position enhanced by an incredibly weak US president and a totally undermined UN who rather than supporting Israel in a war against Jihadists who were firing rockets at civilians, they pressured Israel to stop. While not handing them a victory, this enabled Hamas to put Israel under enough pressure to agree to  a ceasefire that leaves them in charge of Gaza. 

So can Israel and its Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu argue that they 'won' this war? Netanyahu can point to the fact that Hamas fired several thousand dangerous rockets to every part of Israel, and thanks to  a superb defense strategy, almost no damage and few deaths or injuries occurred in Israel. He could also say that the terror tunnels will now never be used against Israeli citizens, probably saving hundreds of lives. Hamas's military capability has been pushed back years by the IDF, and despite the loud anti Israel noise on Paris & London streets, Hamas has been exposed as being prepared -  happy even - to use Gazans as human shields, and to sacrifice their lives. Its use of schools and UN property to hide weapons has been demonstrated, and its manipulation of the media is now better understood. As the ISIS atrocities make the headlines worldwide, Israel has been succeeding in pointing out that fundamentally Hamas & ISIS are very much alike. This conflict has also exposed how deeply Hamas has infiltrated UNRWA and how it appears a UN agency was complicit in the Hamas policy of hiding weapons in schools and firing rockets from near these UNRWA shelters. 

All that is true, but still the Israeli public feel a disappointment with Netanyahu - they feel he had an opportunity to deal a fatal blow to Gaza and bring a level of peace that Southern Israel has not known since 2007. They point to the length of time this campaign took, the cost in lives, money and disrupted lives, and they feel he should have ignored the pressure and fought for a demilitarized Gaza. On the final day of fighting, Bibi said that he would not negotiate under fire, and then a couple of hours later announced a ceasefire while rockets fell on the South.  It is clear to all that Netanyahu and his government were surprised by Hamas's willingness to keep fighting, breaking 11 ceasefires, despite being unable to score any military successes of significance. Even after 70 years, Israel still underestimates the willingness of Arab states & organizations to allow their own people to die "for the cause" - Hamas was using civilian deaths as a weapons, and through them scored its only successes, so it carried on. 

The failure to remove Hamas, and to demilitarize Gaza, will mean that the Gazan Palestinians suffer more years of tyranny and hopelessness, and eventually the rockets will again fall on Southern Israel. In 1 or 2 years we'll be doing this again. That is indeed partly Mr. Netanyahu's failure to find a way to see this operation to it's conclusion, but it is also  a crime against humanity that the UN have encouraged and a reflection of the  incompetence of the current US president and his team. This will happen again, there is now no doubt  and there is plenty of blame to hand around. 

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