Israel won on points, as it always does
The celebrations in Gaza over the “victory” of Hamas in the recent round of violence provoke a strong sense of deja-vu.
Following Operation Cast Lead, Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy political bureau chief of Hamas, wrote in the Guardian that Israel had suffered “a decisive loss”. This prompted me to write a rebuttal in the same paper. I said that for Marzook, “the destruction brought on the people of Gaza by the just, self-defensive actions of Israel, is nothing but the spoils of victory”.
It’s the same old story all over again. I guess that the only difference is that in 2009, some of the 490 comments I received in response to my column were positive, while I’m not sure that would happen today. Unless, of course, Guardian readers start realising that executing people without trial in the streets of Gaza is the same sort of savagery that has manifested itself in the beheading of James Foley.
Coming back to the question of who won and who lost, we are confronted again with the same paradox: in recent armed collisions, Arabs lose, but still claim “victory”, while Israelis win, but still feel sour.
The Six-Day War was the last round in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict that left the Israelis with a clear sense of victory, and at the same time forced the Arabs to concede defeat. They call it “Naksa” in Arabic, meaning “setback”.
The Yom Kippur War was a greater military victory, especially given that Israel was attacked by surprise on both fronts. The fact that the war ended with Israeli forces threatening Damascus and Cairo did not deter the Syrians or the Egyptians from establishing museums that celebrated their alleged victories. The Israelis, on the other hand, who had actually won an incredible victory, were left frustrated and angry.
However, what matters is not the rhetoric or the feelings generated on both sides by the wars, but the actual results, and these can only be measured over time.
The Yom Kippur War left the Israelis frustrated, but later rewarded them with the peace treaty with Egypt – one of the most important accomplishments in the history of the Jewish state.
The controversial First Lebanon War, which greatly disturbed Israeli society, resulted in the PLO decision in 1988 to recognise Israel. And the Second Lebanon War, which everyone was so quick to badmouth at the time, brought about eight years of calm in the north of Israel, and kept Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah hiding in his bunker thereafter.
So now, when grunts of disappointment are heard in Israel, especially from politicians who have an axe to grind, we should take a deep breath and wait for the long-range, concrete results to surface. Hamas was not only beaten badly, but its future freedom of action will be greatly reduced. However, just as with Hizbollah in 2006, it takes time to realise that.
Above all, we have to get used to the new reality. Gone are the good old days of knockouts: if dragged into an armed conflict, Israel must always win in points, and this is exactly what Israel just did.
Uri Dromi is Director of the Jerusalem Press Club
This piece ran originally in the Jewish Chronicle