Back To War In Gaza

The ceasefire is over and fighting started again this morning:

Gaza militants resumed rocket attacks on Israel on Friday, refusing to extend a three-day truce after Egyptian-brokered talks between Israel and Hamas on a new border deal for blockaded Gaza hit a deadlock. Israel responded with a series of airstrikes, including one that killed a 10-year-old boy and wounded five children near a Gaza City mosque, Palestinian officials said. Two Israelis were wounded by rocket fire, police said. The renewed violence threw the Cairo talks on a broader deal into doubt. Hamas officials said they are ready to continue talks, but Israel’s government spokesman said Israel will not negotiate under fire.

Walter Russell Mead wonders why Hamas is still pretending it can eke out some semblance of victory from a war it has clearly lost:

War is a tricky business, in which fortunes can switch overnight, but Hamas today seems in an extremely difficult position, demanding concessions its enemies have no reason to make. Under the circumstances, both Israel and Egypt appear to have solid reasons for sticking to tough negotiating positions and awaiting events. They have inflicted a major and perhaps crushing military defeat on Hamas. They are now trying to turn this into a decisive political victory that will force Hamas to accept substantially more Egyptian power over Gaza as the price of Hamas’ survival.

Hamas is now about one-third as strong as it was at the start of the war, and it faces enemies who smell its weakness and who loathe and mistrust it. Yet it is insisting on an agreement that would amount to a victory even as its political wing reaches out to Iran. One can admire the chutzpah but doubt the wisdom of a strategy rooted in desperation and fear.

“Hamas has accomplished none of its aims,” Hussein Ibish asserts. “Not one”:

For example, Hamas sought recognition as the primary diplomatic representative of Palestinians in Gaza. But the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have kept that role, including on matters regarding Gaza, despite the fact that Hamas has held the territory since 2007. Indeed, the recent “unity deal” between Hamas and Fatah, which led to the formation of a new government with no Hamas ministers that adopted the PLO’s policy of seeking peace with Israel, did nothing to enhance Hamas’s international standing either.

Hamas also failed to conduct any kind of dramatic attack on an Israeli target, notwithstanding repeated efforts. It failed in several infiltration attempts by land and sea, and none of its rockets hit any major target, whether civilian or military. Hamas was not even able to capture a single Israeli soldier whom it could exchange for prisoners. It did execute a few successful ambushes in Gaza in which it killed Israeli soldiers. But dead Israeli troops don’t translate into a direct benefit for either Hamas or any group of Palestinians.

But Jason Burke characterizes the group as “far from disabled”:

It does appear that dozens of sophisticated tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel, which could enable cross-border raids to kill or kidnap civilians and soldiers, have been destroyed. More than 3,000 rockets have been fired on Israel from Gaza – killing three people – which Israeli officials insist is at least half of Hamas’s total stocks of the weapons. However, few senior Hamas military commanders appear to have died. …

Khaleel Habeel, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, admitted casualties, saying that “if you take on the fourth most powerful army in the world then of course you lose people”. Ziad Abu Oda of the Mujahideen Faction splinter group told the Guardian that his organisation had lost 50 men, including fighters and political officials. But even top-end estimates of casualties would be a fraction of the strength of Hamas’s military brigades and other groups, which are believed to have 10,000 fighters permanently under arms, with another 10,000 in reserve.

For Israel’s part, Avi Issacharoff argues, neither war nor negotiations with Hamas will achieve its security goals:

It seems that the only way to change something in this equation (apart from conquering the Strip) would be for Israel to initiate a political process with the Palestinian Authority. There is not much that Israel can do with Hamas, except undermining it in the diplomatic sphere, by offering it everything — a seaport, an airport, a lifting of the blockade, a weekly pass to the amusement park in Tel Aviv… in exchange for the disarmament of Gaza and the destruction of the rest of the tunnels. In other words, to let Hamas’s leaders choose between the Gaza Underground they’ve built and the Gaza on the surface. Hamas would say no, and Israel would gain a few points. But if it really wants to harm Hamas, to weaken it internally and in public opinion, the government of Israel would have to renew the peace talks, even at the expense of a settlement freeze.

Meanwhile, The Economist runs the numbers on the war up to yesterday. Here’s a fun fact:

33. Proportion of respondents to online poll, by Israel’s most popular TV channel on August 3rd, who say the best birthday gift for Barack Obama would be peace in the Middle East: 20% [Israeli Channel 2 TV]

34. Proportion of respondents to Israeli poll who say the best birthday gift for Barack Obama would be the Ebola virus: 48% [Israeli Channel 2 TV]