Though there was uncertainty the last couple of weeks as to when and on what terms the fighting between Israel and Hamas would end, there was little doubt what would happen immediately afterwards: Hamas’s leaders would declare victory and bring Gazans into the streets to celebrate, and Israelis would engage in public hand-wringing over whether our situation had become bleaker—as we have done following every military conflict since the Yom Kippur War four decades ago. This script was followed to a tee and while the speeches and pictures from Gaza have been utterly predictable, the Israeli media has been more interesting, its commentaries ranging from scathing criticism of the war’s outcome in venues such as Ha’aretz to thoughtful, even-handed analyses in ynet and the Times of Israel, and even an occasional piece focusing on Israeli accomplishments.
Israelis appear to have replaced the simplicity of a war largely and correctly viewed as one of moral clarity with the “fog of ceasefire,” in which it is hard to determine whether the effort that brought us to this point was worthwhile. Though sophisticated analyses have their merits and a willingness to engage in self-criticism is a trademark virtue of an open society, the turn towards pessimism in assessing Operation Protective Edge obscures an important truth: The Jewish state emerged from the war strengthened in the areas that matter most. Despite sadness at our losses and concern about uncertainties that remain, Israelis and those who support us should face the future with a sense of accomplishment and heightened confidence.
Though there are numerous factors that can be weighed in reaching a comprehensive assessment, three questions are paramount: Did Israeli society, whose resilience is our single greatest asset, emerge from the war stronger? Did Israel, on balance, deepen the alliances on which it must rely most? And have our enemies been given good reason to hesitate before embarking on subsequent campaigns against us? In all three cases, the answer is a clear yes.
First and foremost, Israeli society was strengthened over the last seven weeks. Though this fact is currently being obscured by the candid stock-taking and the re-emergence of the kinds of disagreement and finger-pointing that characterize a healthy democracy, the unity, solidarity, and resolve Israelis showed during the war was of an unprecedented nature. Israelis, not in the thousands but in the millions, maintained normal lives in the most abnormal of circumstances, showered soldiers with moral and material support, demonstrated gritty determination to continue the ground war despite the large number of IDF casualties, and bolstered the spirits of those most in need by attending en masse funerals of people whom they did not know—with the most sublime symbol being the sign placed near the grave of ex-Californian infantry fighter Max Steinberg, “There is no such thing as a lone soldier in Israel.”
Such acts gave Israelis and their leaders the fortitude to go on under difficult circumstances, but also have longer-term effects. They etched into the hearts of Israelis, especially those who recently came of age, that we are a people capable of great courage, compassion, and commitment when it matters most. When the dust settles and the commentaries of today and tomorrow are forgotten, it will be this sense that will remain and will instill in Israelis the conviction we have what it takes to survive and thrive, come what may.
Diplomatically, Israel was of course subject to increasing criticism from Europe and suffered a well-publicized rift with its leading ally, the United States. Even so, European actions, in any event not decisive, did not undergo a qualitative shift and the U.S.-Israel relationship remains firm, as witnessed by continued cooperation on numerous fronts. The only real strategic change was the remarkable deepening of Israel’s ties with Egypt, the most powerful Arab country, coupled with Cairo’s gaining a more central role in the Middle East as reflected by it, rather than the U.S. or Turkey, leading the ceasefire talks that ultimately bore fruit. Though Israeli and Egyptian leaders were wise enough not to trumpet the degree to which they coordinated positions in depriving Hamas of any concrete concessions, seasoned observers had no doubt this was the case and the bitter reactions of Hamas and its allies provide confirmation of this sea change.
Finally, the conduct of the war has given pause to Hamas and the heads of the more powerful Hezbollah about engaging soon in another military clash with Israel. As Gazans internalize the damage to lives and property resulting from Hamas’s decision to launch rockets from the Strip’s most populated areas, they will likely convey a message that they would dearly love to avoid making more such sacrifices.
Regardless of how sensitive they are to public opinion, Hamas’s leaders were certainly shaken to see their rockets rendered largely impotent by Iron Dome, the attack tunnels in which they invested massively destroyed in short order by an Israeli army willing to pay a high price to pre-empt future raids, and several of their most senior figures killed in targeted attacks after Israeli intelligence penetrated the inner sanctum of the tight-knit Islamist group. Israel’s willingness to carry out a sustained, punishing air and ground war, at great cost in casualties and in our international image, must surely have given Hamas (and Hezbollah) the sense that when the red lines of kidnapping our young men and targeting our population centers are crossed, we will act in a manner that borders on crazy. That perception, sad to say, is a crucial asset in this neighborhood.
We have suffered individual tragedies as a result of the war, and we should mourn them. Our government and army have inevitably made some mistakes, and we should learn from them. But on balance, our nation has emerged stronger than we were at the start of the summer, and we have good reason to think, speak, and act accordingly.