To judge the success or failure of Operation Pillar of Defence, one must understand the objectives that Israel set itself prior to the operation. It was clear 8 days ago that Israel sought to bring peace to beleaguered communities across the south who had been facing an intolerable wave of terror attacks. The aim was to deter Hamas from launching rockets, or allowing other groups to do the same. In other words, conquering the Gaza Strip and defeating Hamas outright was never on the cards.
It is simply too early to say whether these aims have been satisfied, for only events will reveal whether Hamas will cease their terror activities. History would suggest, however, that this is merely yet another lull in the Hamas war, a hudna or a temporary ceasefire while they recover and regroup. We will almost certainly be back here next year, or the year after.
Certainly Israel achieved considerable successes. The IAF struck over 1,500 targets in Gaza, including command and control centres, rocket launching sites and underground tunnels. They eliminated several senior Hamas commanders, depriving the terror group of enormous experience at the military level. Israel’s wonderful Iron Dome had a success rate of 84%, ensuring that the civilian casualties on the Israeli side were kept remarkably low. For 8 days, the IAF put Hamas under relentless pressure and managed, by keeping civilian casualties low, to gather support from many world leaders. Yet Hamas will surely rebuild, just as Hezbollah did in 2006. They will stockpile more (and potentially deadlier) weapons, fitting the trajectory since 2005, and replenish their terror arsenal just as effectively. With only about 120 Hamas terrorists killed, the group still has many thousands of ‘martyrs’.
What was fundamental was that the supply route to Gaza was shut down and that rockets and missiles could no longer reach the enclave. This has now been put in the hands of the Egyptians, led by the Hamas ally, Mohammed Morsi. In one sense, this might not appear disastrous. After all, Morsi urgently needs American economic assistance and investment for his poverty stricken country, something he might not want to risk by reneging on a pledge to bring security to Gaza. But one should not forget that Morsi has already presided over a declining security situation in Sinai, a region awash with weaponry and terrorists, and it is not clear that he will seek to rein in the militants. Even if he does, this will only further empower the Muslim Brotherhood with their virulent anti western ideology.
In political terms, Hamas will also feel emboldened by this latest conflict. They are once again calling the shots in the region, after already seeing their stock rise as a result of the Gilad Schalit affair. That they were able to continue firing their missiles up until the ceasefire, in particular that they brought fear to the citizens of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, will give enormous comfort to their supporters. Moreover, they will see Israel’s refusal to launch a ground invasion as a a victory for western, specifically American, pressure. Israel’s famed deterrence will be seen to have ground to a halt under a barrage of misguided diplomatic manoeuvres.
Mahmoud Abbas, by contrast, cuts a rather ineffectual figure as he bids for a unilateral state at the United Nations. He kept quiet for 8 days and eschewed the direct use of violence and terror. While that is to his credit, it will not necessarily provide any pay offs among his own people. The militant jihadis appear to be the ones testing Israeli resolve right now. And the rise and rise of jihadis at the expense of their secular rivals seems to be in keeping with regional developments. After all, we have seen Islamists triumph in Tunisia and Egypt and murderous Islamist rampages have brought chaos inside Libya. With the Muslim Brotherhood in the ascendant, why should Gaza be any different? For now, there is an uncertain quiet across Israel. One fears that the next round of fighting is just around the corner.