Now that this current round of hostilities has ended, both Hamas and Israel have undertaken the thorny task of selling their own hollow victories in the market place of public opinion. On the surface, Israel’s triumph seems incontestable: 735 mortars and rockets intercepted by the Iron Dome system, 6,231 targets attacked, 1,408 terrorists killed, and 34 smuggling tunnels destroyed. On the other hand, Hamas, clearly lacking the metrics to substantiate a decisive victory, has been forced to tout a number of implied potentialities instead. When asked why Hamas had agreed to accept the recent Egyptian brokered cease-fire, the organization’s chief, Khaled Meshaal stated:
“Our demands were just, but in the end we had the Palestinian demands on the one hand and the pain of Gaza’s civilian population on the other. So we agreed to the cease-fire in the knowledge that the siege will be lifted, that the other issues like the seaport and airport will be on the negotiating table in another month, and that the weapon in the hands of the resistance are the guarantees that its goals, above all the building of an airport and seaport, along with the release of the prisoners, will be achieved.”
Regardless, what may end up defining the recent confrontation more than anything is the fact that both sides seemed unable to achieve any long-term alteration in respect to the conflict. Moreover, the recent hostilities (the third conflict since 2008) have come at a tremendous cost to both Israeli’s and Gazans alike. For Israel, Operation Protective Edge’s price tag is estimated to be $4.3 billion. According to Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the operation’s costs will likely be absorbed into Israeli’s 2014 budget.For residents of Gaza, the rebuilding project will be entirely contingent upon foreign aid and will require reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority, who recently estimated the cost to be hovering around $7.8 billion. Though predictable, this disproportionate outcome still begs the question, “What was Hamas’s endgame in Gaza?” Obviously, one could point to prisoner releases and the goal to put an end to the Israeli blockade as clearly defined objectives. The problem with identifying these claims as anything other than the subtext to a larger agenda is that these aims could be pursued non-militarily. Some analysts have suggested that Hamas’s primary goal was to regain the rapidly declining support they once held among Palestinian population. Given the fact that the organization was also in financial disarray at the time, it seems entirely plausible that Hamas may have conscientiously entered into its latest conflict with Israel as a means to reposition itself politically.
Hamas, Syria, and Iran
Prior to the Syrian Civil War, Hamas had situated itself as a central Muslim Brotherhood Party that was able to enjoy symbiotic relationships with both it’s own Sunni Islamist membership and Pro-Iranian Shiite factions. Previously, Hamas had spent a decade in Syria’s capital city of Damascus in close alliance with President Bashar al-Assad. However, as the Syrian Civil War droned on, Hamas became increasingly critical of the Assad regime’s actions in the region. Eventually, Hamas was forced to close their Damascus offices, effectively ending the once warm alliance shared between the two parties. Hamas continued to align itself with the Sunni rebels attempting to oust Assad, which lead to Iran (a close Syrian ally) slashing their weapons supply and millions of dollars in aid per month. Earlier this year, it was reported that Hamas had been making significant inroads toward repairing the ruptured Hamas-Iran relationship. Reportedly, Iran has resumed its support of Hamas but it is hard to measure what degree of financial and military restoration has taken place between the two parties.
Hamas, Eygpt, and economic hardship
The 2010 election of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi saw Hamas garner a renewed sense of confidence in the idea that they would eventually acquire a new partnership in the region. However, any stratagems Hamas’s leadership had envisaged for a potential Egyptian alliance were soon truncated by the military’s ouster of President Morsi. Egypt’s new military-backed regime implemented strict policies that including shutting down 1,370 Hamas smuggling tunnels as well as banning the Muslim Brotherhood altogether. As a result, Hamas has lost nearly two-thirds of its revenue from its tunnel operation, which has been estimated by Gaza economist, Omar Shaban, to be a $500 million a year venture. As a consequence, Hamas has seen its steady supply of low-cost materials like cement and fuel completely cut-off from the Gaza Strip. This has resulted in economic hardship for its construction industry and led to frequent electricity shortages. In addition to recent Egyptian policies, the Gaza Strip’s economy has also been stifled by Israel’s constraints, which include: the control of all airspace, a blockade by sea, and the restriction of movement by land. Throughout much of 2014, it was widely reported that Hamas’s government employees (35,000-40,000) were receiving only partial payments for their wages.
Unity Deal With Fatah
In April, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh signed a unity deal with a PLO delegation representing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Although the agreement sought to bring about an end to Fatah-Hamas hostilities, many analysts saw it as a signification of Hamas’s waning strength in the region. Some have even suggested that the impetus behind Hamas’s cooperation lied in the fact that this agreement would yield significant financial support from the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, many believed that Hamas was also looking for a way to unburden itself from the organizational responsibilities associated with the actual governance of Gaza. In all likelihood, Hamas’s primary motivation behind the reconciliation agreement germinated from the realization that it would be essential for the group to establish themselves as key actors beyond the confines of the Gaza Strip. If Hamas’s association with Fatah could grant them the ability to establish a presence in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they could eventually position the organization as the central purveyor of Palestinian Nationalism. In reality, the PA refused to pay Hamas’s civil workers and security force’s salaries. After resigning all of their cabinet positions and essentially capitulating their existence as an actual governing body to the PA, Hamas held one last card in its crumbling deck – the Al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas’s standing post-Operation Protective Edge
Despite Hamas’s claims to contrary, it is difficult to describe the organization’s recent terror campaign as anything other than an unmitigated failure. As military hostilities began to unwind, Hamas was compelled to accept a cease-fire agreement that included virtually none of their initial principal requests: no prisoner releases, no payment of Hamas salaries, and no opening of the Rafah border. Further consequences of the confrontation included: the decimation of its remaining tunnel network, the depletion of 80% of its rocket supply, and the loss of three senior military officials.
Still, one has to ask whether or not Hamas has come any closer to repositioning the organization as the sole representatives of the Palestinian “Resistance Movement.” According to a recent poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 79% of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank stated that Hamas was the victor in its war against Israel. In direct contrast to this, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has seen a massive downward trend in his own approval ratings. Recently, Haaretz conducted a poll in which only 25% of Israeli respondents stated that they believe Israel had won the war. Even more telling was the fact that 54% of the respondents surveyed stated that they believed there was no clear winner between the two sides. Incidentally, only 16% of respondents believe that Hamas emerged victorious in the conflict.
Netanyahu now finds himself charged with the delicate task of perpetuating a status quo position that seeks to merely manage the conflict, as opposed to solving it. Mahmoud Abbas may be Israel’s only true partner in the peace process but his support in Gaza continues to grow weaker everyday. In time, we may see the PA successfully assert security control in the region, including the Rafah crossing at the Egypt-Gaza border. The success of such an undertaking could lead to not only a recommencing of peace negotiations but also an eventual annihilation of Hamas altogether. For now, Hamas can continue to declare victory in the last war simply based on the fact that they survived Israel’s massive onslaught. The question we should be asking ourselves now is whether or not Hamas’s hollow victory will evolve into a concrete one.