Gaza Crisis: Israel Won the Round

A week ago Israel announced unilateral cease fire which ended the operation “Pillar of Defense”. As many others, I was watching Netanyahu declaring that the objectives of the operation were achieved, and couldn’t believe what I heard. The expectation was a massive ground assault, especially after Hamas missile Fajr-5 hit a condominium in Rishon Le-Zion and a terrorist blew up a bus in Tel-Aviv the same day. How would the truce, with all that, bring peace and security to the residents of the Israeli south? However, more careful analysis shows that Israel not only gained its objectives, but ran the operation with brilliant tactics, reading correctly the new map of the Middle East.

In order to see the full picture, one has to understand what are the interests of the key players in the Gaza conflict. Israel’s main aim is to protect its citizens. The main method is deterrence, in other words preventing any terror attack by making the act not worth to be committed. Since the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel definitely doesn’t have any interest to gain the control over the strip or expose its soldiers for guerrilla fighting within.

Gaza strip is ruled by Hamas, the terrorist organization, which in 2007 made a bloody uprising against the Palestinian Authority and slaughtered hundreds of their opponents. Ahmad al-Jabari, whose liquidation started the current operation, was among the heads of the uprising. Since then Hamas leaders acquired a huge amount of wealth, directing their acts of terror not only towards Israelis, but also towards their own civilians. Being the explicitly only-ruling group in the strip, assisted by Iran, Hamas turned Gaza into one big bunker. Schools and kindergartens became double-used as warehouse of arms; their backyards as rocket launching sites. Lower levels of populated condominiums were made to contain storage facilities of missiles. Those sites were chosen deliberately in order to prevent possible Israeli strike. This is catch-22 style situation. Hesitation to attack the sites would demonstrate lack of Israel’s ability to assure security of its own citizens. However, if during a clash, children in Gaza will be hurt, Hamas will show the photos and claim for massacre. By doing this, Hamas will shape the international public opinion against Israel and thus will prevent any further Israeli action to defend its own citizens. Gazan children are only a tool in game. This awful situation made 1.7 million of Gazan civilians hostages of terror.

In the given circumstances, collapsing of Hamas regime in Gaza is not a goal that could be achieved. Such development is possible only if there is a different group that will take power in Gaza after the intervention. But unfortunately there is none. Ground assault would cost precious lives of Israeli soldiers as well as unfortunately Palestinian civilians, caught in the fire. Both would be achievements for Hamas, if their leadership would survive.

With such low starting point, Israel ran a brilliant operation. The strategy wasn’t to eliminate the leaders of Hamas, but to liquidate the ones who hold the keys and influence the rest. In the first days of the operation Hamas lost its long range rocket arsenal, personal properties of its leaders and centers of the governing. Seven top-rated terror heads were liquidated. Israel harmed the very interests of Hamas, showing to the treetop of the Hamas leadership that they might be the next. On the other hand, Hamas had almost no achievements. Due to the Iron Dome interception system, Hamas failed to cause large scale casualties among Israeli civilians. Israeli surgery strikes harmed badly Hamas rockets ability, but almost without civilians deaths in Gaza and without the scenes Hamas wanted to get. Actually, Hamas fabricated corpses, reusing photographs from Syria and providing those to the media. Meanwhile, Israel called for the reserves.

Here we should consider another key player – Egypt. Even though the new Egyptian regime, backed by the Muslim brotherhood, is very close ideologically to Hamas, Egypt depends largely on the US aid and its army is weak. Military conflict with Israel is not desirable. On the first days of the operation there was a limited rally of protest at the Takhrir Sq. in Cairo. Egyptian officials delivered very militant statementx. However, it is good to keep in mind, that if Morsi wished, he could easily fill the Takhrir with protesters who would demand to tear the peace treaty with Israel. But he didn’t. Morsi had to manipulate between the lust of the street to assist Hamas, Egypt-US relations and the reality of his fragile regime. Israeli ground assault in Gaza would require him to respond in favor of Gaza, or otherwise Egypt would collapse from inside. Therefore, Egyptian interest was to prevent further escalation and to stop the fire.

Israel played well. Till the last minute the ground assault was possible. Netanyahu really meant it. If there would not be an indication that Hamas is willing to comply and keep the truce, Israel would send the troops in having no other choice.

Israel enforced a new reality in which keeping the cease fire is also a matter of Egypt’s international prestige. As for Egypt, in order to avoid facing such awkward situation in the future, it agreed to stop Iranian missile shipments to Gaza through Sudan and the Red Sea. This might be also the key to prevent any future round in a long term. One doesn’t attend a duel, if he doesn’t have a pistol.

Continuously losing their strategic arms and acting under Egyptian pressure, without having any achievements to show till far, Hamas lost the clash. Clinton mediated the exact terms of Egyptian involvement. Hamas, surprised by the Israeli ability to hurt them in precise and surgeon way, disappointed by international support for Israeli actions and having its leaders losing their wealth, was deterrent. Hamas leadership understood that they would pay a painful price for each new round, and probably without any significant achievements. Of course, Hamas could not admit it publicly. Few rockets were launched towards Israel in the night after the truce came in power. Those were solely for public relations purposes, to say that they said the last word. Public relations also created the legends about the so-said brought down Israeli F-16 plane and the misinformation about “bombarding the Knesset (the Israeli Parliament)”. The changes in the fishing area and the restricted zones near the border are the lip service Egypt delivered for Hamas’ public relation and for their own public opinion. Those could be gained with the first signal from Hamas that they are willing to stop all violence, much before the operation started.

Summarizing, the objectives of the operation were fully achieved. ┬áThe border with Gaza is completely quiet for already a week. Israel promoted all its interests, while Hamas didn’t get any achievements from the terror. Therefore, Israel won the round.

About the Author
David is a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellow in Harvard University and the founder of "Ambassadors Online" public diplomacy program.