Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So who won the war in Gaza?

Following the unilateral ceasefires of the Israelis and Hamas, it appears that the war in Gaza is over, at least for a (probably short) while, and this begs the question: who won? Predictably, both sides claim victory. Most pundits seem to lean towards saying that Israel won a victory, but not a complete one. Some say that Hamas fought better than expected and that it deserves high praise for not letting the Israelis into the urban areas of Gaza. I think that there are at least two very different levels in which what happened in Gaza needs to be appraised, a tactical one and a strategic one.


One the tactical level, the reality is that we still do not know what really happened. Yes, we know that the Israelis report very few casualties and that Hamas claims that Israelis figures under-report the real casualties. I personally do not believe that the Israelis figures are fake, Israel is just not the kind of society where this can be done, at least not in meaningful numbers. So I accept the Israeli figures and they are very low: 13. In contrast, there have been 1300+ Palestinians killed (and another 5300+ wounded). That's a 1:100 kill ratio. What does this figure show? Only one thing:

The Israelis never really fought Hamas on the ground.

In fact, reporters on the ground repeatedly reported the following: the Israelis moved in at night and back out at daybreak. This bizarre tactic could only have one goal: to put pressure on Hamas without really engaging it. No real commander would ever give up all the ground his forces took in bloody combats at night each morning only to repeat the very same attack the next evening. Unless, of course, no "bloody combat" ever took place. So let me restate this here:

The Israelis never really fought Hamas on the ground.

So all that talk about the Israelis or Hamas having shown excellent combat skills is nonsense. The only 'combat' which took place was the Israelis shooting at Gaza from afar (air, sea, artillery, etc.) and the Palestinians hunkering down and trying to avoid the incoming fire. Only in that narrow sense did both sides perform rather well: the Israelis inflicted an immense wave of terror and suffering on the entire population of Gaza while the Palestinians managed to survive and fight to the very last day. The fact is that this entire war was a war of nerves. The Israelis wanted to "shock and awe" the Palestinians into submission and the fact is that they failed: Hamas is still defiant and in control of Gaza. Was breaking down Hamas really an Israeli objective? Probably not, not even the Israelis are that dumb. Did the Israelis really think they would get Shalit out? Again, probably not. So what was their objective?

1) Showing the Palestinians that the Israelis are still the ruthless killers they have always been and thereby restoring not their "deterrence capability" but their *terrorism capability*. This objective was clearly met: the Israelis have clearly proven to themselves, the Palestinians and the rest of the world that they are the ultimate terrorist state, the unrepentant Ueber-terrorist on the planet.

2) Showing the rest of the world that they have only contempt and hatred for what is otherwise known as "norms of civilized behavior" and international law in general. This explains the repeated attacks on ambulances, the shelling of mosques, schools, universities, UN compounds, etc. This objective was also clearly met: nobody in his right mind can seriously doubt that the Israelis have anything but hateful contempt for any legal or moral norm of civilized behavior.

3) The attack on Gaza was also a collective exercise in psychotherapy. After being abjectly humiliated by about 1000 Hezbollah operators in 2006, Olmert, the IDF and the Israeli general public badly needed to restore their self-image as the "superior race" in the Middle-East. That objective was also brilliantly met: what better than the kill ratio of 1:100 can restore the self image of a hate filled racist and convince him of his superiority?

Again, all these objectives were met and, what is crucial, were met without committing the huge mistake of actually trying to engage the Palestinian resistance on the ground. That is, I would argue, the biggest Israeli success: not having done something amazingly dumb. Hamas is not the party which initiated this war so one cannot really speak of "Hamas objectives" in this war. If anybody still thinks that Hamas was the party which started this war by firing Qassam rockets into Sderot, let me remind you here that it was Israel which committed the fist act of war by imposing a total blockade on Gaza (a blockade is legally an act of war). Still, by keeping the IDF confined to the non urbanized area of Gaza Hamas clearly succeeded in maintaining its deterrent capability. Bottom line: Hamas did not loose, nor did it accept some kind of idiotic "peace plan" offered by outside parties. Still, Hamas completely failed at inflicting any meaningful damage on the Israelis.

This is how I would score the tactical performance of the parties:

Israel: B+
Hamas: B-


True to themselves, the Israelis achieved somewhat of a tactical success at the price of a strategic disaster. Operation Cast Lead undoubtedly made things immensely worse for Israel in almost every imaginable aspect:

1) Even before the war on Gaza Israel was the most hated country on earth (which, considering that this is the last openly racist country on the planet, should surprise nobody). Now this hatred has increased by an order of magnitude. This is particularly noticeable among the Left and Left-leaning parties and movement.

2) The war on Gaza was also highly damaging to all the allies of Israel. For example, Mubarak, Sarkozy, Abbas and many others were gradually becoming desperate to find some kind of way to stop the war because their otherwise sycophantic attitude towards the "Jewish state" put them in an extremely difficult position with their own public opinion. Even in the USA and Turkey the disgust with Israel reached new heights. Sure, the war has now stopped, at least for a while, but nobody seriously doubts that all these politicians owe their power to the support of the US Empire and Zionist Lobby rather than to the fact that they represent the policies desired by their public opinions.

3) To make thing worse for Israel, I predict that there will now be a wave of legal attempts to bring the Israeli government and army officials to trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, etc. Sure, the Zionist lobbies and their ironclad control of most Western governments and of all the corporate press will mostly protect Israeli officials from such legal actions, but since the Zionist lobbies do *not* control all the courts worldwide, not even in the USA, the embarrassment generated by the constant cat and mouse game played between human right activists and Israeli officials will be immense. After all, it is hard to constantly speak about being "the only democracy in the Middle-East" and "sharing Western values" while constantly dodging international arrest warrants for war crimes and genocide.

4) There is no doubt possible that the war on Gaza made any possibility for a so-called "two state solution" even more remote than before. As Olmert (correctly) explained in 2007, if the "two state solution" fails Israel will be faced with an Apartheid like struggle. This is now exactly the dynamic which is taking place. All the tactical efforts of Israel (the Wall, the blockade and war on Gaza, the reneging on all the accords and pledges, etc.) have achieved only one thing: they have made a two state solution impossible. That leaves the Israelis only two options: either expel of kill the vast majority of Palestinians or live with them in one state. The former not being possible, the latter is inevitable and that, in turns, means giving up the sick dream nightmare of the ethnically pure "Jewish state".

5) In contrast to Israel, Hamas has achieved a huge strategic victory in this war. For the first time the Palestinians themselves managed to survive and ride out a full scale Israeli assault. Hamas itself, in stark contrast to Fatah, has proven that it is a real resistance movement. Sure, Hamas is not Hezbollah, not by a long long shot, but Hamas is not Fatah or the bad old PLO either. The Hamas leadership which has a long history of rather myopic decisions has this time managed to stay firm and it has immensely increased its worldwide prestige. There is still plenty of things which are wrong with Hamas, but it would be unfair and unreasonable to expect Hamas to grow into a Hezbollah like force overnight. Politics is the science of the possible and once the Israelis attacked Gaza there is very little the Hamas foot soldiers or leaders could have done much better than what they actually did.

This is how I would score the strategic performance of the parties:

Israel: F
Hamas: A-

In conclusion I want to point out one area in which Hamas performance can only be called absolutely disastrous: public relations. Hamas still does not have a real website to present its information in English in a systematic and timely fashion. During this war, Hamieh, Meshaal and other Hamas officials made statements which were never translated in full or published on the web. The Ezzedine al Qassam brigades have a forum, but it is run by incompetent people who instead of providing timely and relevant information basically are content to have people chat about this and that. Even worse, Hamas provided grossly misleading information about IDF soliders made prisoners, about destroyed Merkavas, and killed Israeli soldiers. All this painfully reminds me of Saddam's Minister of Information "comical Ali" (Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf). The sad fact is that Ha'aretz provided far more interesting and correct information that any and all the pro-Hamas outlets out there. In terms of public information Hamas deserves a shameful F for its absolutely inadequate performance.

That's pretty much sums up my impressions about this war. Since we simply don't know much about what really happened I am not insisting that any of the above is correct. I might have overlooked or misunderstood a lot so, please, drop by and let me know what you think. There are plenty among you, my readers, which know much more than I do about all this and I ask you to please share your insights with me and the rest of us.

The Saker

PS: I have just seen an article by Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz who, to my surprise, pretty much seems to agree with most of my analysis of this war though, of course, he casts his views in softer terms. Check it out, it makes, I think, for a rather good reading.