What We Learned (So Far)
The world’s reaction to Israel during the latest war in Gaza was very harsh, although not very surprising. Many countries in Europe have never been the greatest friends to the Jewish people or to Israel, and the vitriol spewed at the State furthered this fact. While major massacres of civilian populations are currently taking place in Northern Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Nigeria, photos of the devastation in these wars have rarely appeared on European TV screens like the images that were beamed in from Gaza. Foreign media outlets also seem to be largely absent from any of those other war zones, while they boosted ratings with their coverage from Gaza.
In America, Obama’s consistent denunciations of Israel were especially hurtful. He has been a big proponent of the US drone program, which has killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. For instance, in 2008 America bombed not one, but two different wedding parties in a 5-month period killing over 100 civilians in just these two attacks. Were the bodies of these women and children splashed across American television screens for weeks? Of course not. It was war, and America understands the threat that these Islamic Fundamentalist groups pose. And while any civilian loss of life is tragic, it is also inevitable when facing an enemy that shows such disregard for human life and uses civilians as human shields to fight their wars. For some reason when Israel faced the same threat, they were held to a higher standard, even though the threat was right on their border.
But it has not all been doom and gloom. The American Congress and the American people largely stood behind Israel. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously approved resolutions supporting Israel’s actions in Gaza. And a recent poll suggested that over 54% of American’s supported Israel, 14% sympathized with the Palestinian’s, while only 7% supported Hamas. Unfortunately some of the American media didn’t feel the same way and the anti-Israel groups certainly made their voices heard against the more silent majority.
More importantly, Israel saw an unprecedented amount of back channel support from leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and to a lesser extent, Jordan. All of these countries have also recently felt abandoned by the Obama White House and understand that cooperation amongst themselves is necessary to combat the growing threats in the region. These new regional allies understand the threat posed by Hamas, other Islamic Fundamentalist groups and the more radical regimes in Turkey, Iran and Qatar. Egypt could have opened their borders to the people of Gaza, but instead they led a clamp down of any activity in support of Hamas in the Sinai Peninsula. We also never saw any sort of large scale Arab League condemnation of Israel as we have seen in the past. This sort of cooperation between leading Arab countries and Israel is unprecedented and clearly offers a glimmer of hope for further cooperation in the future.
While the death of any civilians is always tragic, this war has proven to be somewhat fortuitous for Israel. It is clear that Hamas had been planning a large scale attack against Israel through their stockpiling of weapons and building of more than 40 tunnels, many of which jutted into Israel. Israel was able to destroy two-thirds of Hamas’ rockets and most of their tunnels. If Hamas was able to carry out an attack at a time of their choosing, the results may have been catastrophic.
The fact that Hamas was not destroyed in this war was also solely due to Israeli restraint. Israel recognizes that there needs to be a proper entity to fill the vacuum if Hamas was removed from power, and chaos on their border was not a preferable solution. Although, Hamas truly is an organization on the brink of collapse and that is why they decided to enter a unity pact with the Palestinian Authority before this war. They haven’t paid their members in months, thousands of Gazans have been displaced by this war and the suffering there has just begun.
Hamas’ ability to deal with the devastation will be extremely difficult especially without Egypt and Israel cooperation. While some international funding will be helpful, it will be largely slow to arrive and the effects of the aid will be only be felt even slower. The deterioration of their relationship with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah will also have a lasting impact. There have been reports that Hamas was planning to attempt to stage a coup against Fatah in the West Bank and Fatah also accused Hamas of targeting Fatah members during the war, in addition to stealing humanitarian aid. Meanwhile Israel will undoubtedly be able to deflect any sort of trumped-up war crimes charges leveed against them by international bodies that have routinely condemned them.
The bigger issue is how to move forward with the peace process with the Palestinian Authority. This war seems to be a major set back for peace, but hopefully when tensions die down; it can be a catalyst for more progress.