Hamas’ muted response to last week’s announcement that Egypt was postponing the post-war ceasefire talks was yet another reminder that Hamas not only lost “Protective Edge,” they capitulated.
Hamas had promised, repeatedly and explicitly, to continue the war until Israel met its demands: a release of prisoners who had recently been re-arrested, an end to the blockade, and permission to build a sea port and an airport. In the end, they agreed to a ceasefire without any of the above.
Israel, on the other hand, clearly achieved its stated war aims: destroying most of the infiltration tunnels, and inflicting damage on the Hamas military infrastructure.
Surely, then, Operation Protective Edge should be considered an exception to the too familiar scenario of Israel winning militarily but losing diplomatically.
And yet in a Jerusalem Post/Maariv poll taken just after the war, 61% of the respondents agreed with the statement that “the IDF won the war, but Israel lost.” How can this be? The polls shed some light on this as well.
58% of the respondents opposed the ceasefire, saying the IDF “should have been allowed to continue the operation.” And according to a Channel 10 poll taken at around the same time, 75% of the respondents said the IDF should have toppled the Hamas regime in Gaza.
These results are both naïve and encouraging.
It’s encouraging that so many Israelis realize that even though we won the latest round of fighting, we can’t prevail as long as Hamas is in power.
However, it is quite naïve to assert that a military operation will solve our problems with Gaza. Here are three reasons why.
- Toppling Hamas would require a longer war and intense house to house combat. It would entail higher Israeli casualties, higher civilian casualties in Gaza, greater chances of our soldiers being captured, and much greater international condemnation. Many of those who said “let them finish the job” would reverse themselves during the fighting.
- Toppling Hamas would presumably require a military occupation of all of Gaza until a new regime could consolidate power (or until we leave unilaterally, again). How many of the “finish the jobbers” will still be on board then?
- Even if a new regime were to consolidate power, there’s no guarantee it would be better than the current one. Hamas didn’t achieve power without a support base, and this base wouldn’t just disappear under a new regime. Furthermore, many if not most non-Hamas Gazans supported not only the building of rockets arsenals and attack tunnels, but also their use against Israeli civilians. Throughout the war, Hamas was under pressure to demonstrate “achievements” (i.e., murder of Israeli civilians via rockets or infiltration) in order to score points with their non-supporters. Meanwhile, Fatah is already praising the Ammunition Hill light-rail baby-murderer and Abu Mazen is already honoring the shooter of Yehudah Glick. Fatah’s behavior would likely be worse if it had to build a political coalition in Gaza.
So what are we to do?
First of all we need to internalize the idea that Gaza (like the Middle East in general) does not lend itself to a quick fix. Neither territorial conquest nor territorial withdrawal are magical solutions. Real peace will come only when Gazans (and Middle Easterners in general) value peace for its own sake, value human life for its own sake.
Secondly, we must work much harder to help make this valuation of human life and peace a reality. Of course we need to continue defending ourselves military, and that includes maintaining military deterrence. But our focus must be on looking for ways to facilitate greater manifestation of the divinely endowed humanity which is within each Gazan (and Middle Easterner and human earthling).
In the latest round of fighting we indeed came out ahead militarily and diplomatically. But as most Israelis realize, we haven’t yet won the war. In order to do so, we’ll have to use our potentially greatest weapon: moral proliferation.