Can Israel “Win” This War? Ctd

Brent Sasley says yes to that question:

When the dust settles, Israel will also have restored some of its deterrence against its enemies. Against Hamas specifically, it demonstrated it’s gotten over what we might call Cast Lead Syndrome: recoiling from the type of international opprobrium that war generated against Israel because of the scale of Palestinian deaths. In that conflict, between approximately 1,100 and 1,400 Gazans were killed, depending on what source one looks to for casualty figures. Yet already in Operation Protective Edge, more than 1,000 Palestinians may have been killed. Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become a cautious administrator since his first term in office, the temptation to keep going to destroy Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure has overcome his reluctance to use large-scale force. And the Israeli public has rallied behind him.

In a debate among Brookings experts, Michael Doran contends that whether or not Israel is “winning”, Hamas is definitely losing:

Six months from now, many Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, will ask themselves what all the pain and destruction that Hamas brought down on them was worth. Their disgruntlement will not weaken Hamas’s grip on power, because it is a dictatorship supported by foreign money. But the organization, as it stands before its people and lectures them on the need for more sacrifice, will surely clock the sullen faces that stare blankly back. As for the “support” that Hamas gets from public opinion in other parts of the Arab world that will certainly dissipate. Of course, it’s never been worth much anyway, throughout modern Arab history, because it never translates into lasting change in the behavior of states, the true power brokers in the region. Meanwhile, Hamas will have lost considerably on the battlefield.

But Shadi Hamid is not so sure:

Even if Hamas “loses” in the ways that you describe, it seems to me that they’re likely to at least be better off than they were before the conflict started.

It’s hard to envision any ceasefire arrangement that won’t include easing the blockade in some way (Hamas has little incentive to agree to a ceasefire that doesn’t alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza). The West Bank surge in pro-Hamas sentiment isn’t just about public opinion; it’s about closing the gap between Hamas and Fatah. If the developments in the West Bank underscore anything, it’s the real, and growing, desire for Palestinian unity. Last week on MSNBC, Mustafa Barghouti said that a new uprising had started. He may be getting ahead of himself, but if a ceasefire doesn’t hold in the coming days, there will be more instability in the West Bank (and corresponding anti-Palestinian sentiment) and that can only strengthen Hamas hand during post-ceasefire negotiations over contours of unity government. Also, the expectation, which I suppose is implicit in these Israeli deterrence operations, is that at some point Palestinians will blame Hamas more than they blame Israel. But, there’s little to suggest this is how most Palestinians process the results of Israeli military operations.

Aaron David Miller considers Hamas the winner, so far:

It’s impossible to predict a winner or loser at this stage. Israel is determined to prevent a Hamas victory or even a stalemated outcome that might appear to represent one. The situation is, as they say, remarkably fluid. But three weeks in, if I had to do a tally now, I’d say Hamas has taken round one in what is likely to be an ongoing struggle. And here’s why:

Survival counts as a winAs in previous confrontations, the organizational imperative dominates Hamas’s tactics and strategy. Against a militarily and technologically superior Israel, Hamas can afford to waste a couple of thousand rockets and lose a few dozen tunnels, but the main goal is keeping both its military and political leadership intact, and not giving into Israel’s superior firepower. Indeed, in a way Hamas wins just by not losing.

And even if Hamas is utterly destroyed in this war, Scott McConnell worries about what would come next:

Suppose Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas. How many terror cells will it have created thoughout the Middle East? Will those cells content themselves in mounting operations against Israel? Or would they also seek vengeance against the superpower which enables, and could even be seen as encouraging, Israel’s annihilation of them. In 2002, a not-very-sophisticated home-grown sniper traumatized the Washington metropolitan area for weeks. If the predictions of one of America’s leading anti-terror officials are correct, Israel is setting the table for much more complex terror operations, in which American civilians will become targets. Sad as it is to contemplate, if that happens, people all over the Mideast will believe we are only getting what we deserve.

Previous Dish on what an Israeli “victory” would entail in the Gaza war here.