A War Without A Winner

Israel may have technically “won” the Gaza war by weakening Hamas and destroying its tunnel infrastructure, but David Rothkopf argues that this “win” carries with it an even greater loss in terms of its image:

If Israel’s goal was to delegitimize Hamas, whatever it achieved during these last three weeks came at the expense of its own reputation. No matter how many articulate, pommy-accented spokespeople Israel rolls out to discuss human shields, they are trumped by the images of dead and wounded women and children, the stories of displaced families, the ground truth of an advanced, technologically sophisticated, militarily powerful nation laying waste to a land it occupies in order to root out a small cadre of fighters who pose little strategic threat to it. In short, Israel was waging a military action against an adversary that was waging a political campaign and thus adopted the wrong tactics and measured their progress by the wrong metrics. In fact, there is no denying that the Israeli tactics (it seems very unlikely there was any real strategizing going on) in this war do not pass the most basic tests available by which to assess them, those of morality, proportionality, and effectiveness.

Hamas’ defeat hasn’t been categorical either, Ishaan Tharoor observes:

Operation Protective Edge, as my colleagues report, has badly damaged Hamas’s operational capabilities, dismantling tunnels by which Hamas could launch attacks on Israel, destroying command centers and killing hundreds of supposed Hamas fighters. The group’s arsenal of rockets is also now considerably depleted. … But for Hamas, to mangle Clausewitz, the firing of rockets was politics by other means. “For Hamas, the choice wasn’t so much between peace and war,” writes Nathan Thrall, Jerusalem-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, “as between slow strangulation and a war that had a chance, however slim, of loosening the squeeze.” With Israel now at the negotiating table, there’s a chance that gamble paid off.

But Saletan suspects that many Gazans won’t soon forgive Hamas for putting them through another war unless they get something out of the ceasefire negotiations:

Gazans will judge the war based on postwar concessions. As things stand, they see the war as a loss. But that calculation assumes the continuation of the blockade. “All the industries are dying, and there are no jobs for the young,” laments a Gaza City man. “It’s a kind of suffocation. So if we can’t change that, this has all been for nothing.”

On the other hand, he admits, that will require Israel to be clearheaded about its strategic interests in easing the Gaza blockade:

[T]he cost of granting concessions is less than the cost of not granting them. Yes, if Gaza’s borders are opened, its people will celebrate. Yes, they might applaud Hamas, and they might conclude that belligerence works. But if the borders aren’t opened, the people might radicalize and explode. That’s the warning in those prewar surveys about the political effects of the blockade. Hamas and its violent inclinations might gain more support from the blockade than from its relaxation.

Whatever deal, if any, comes out of these negotiations, Matt Duss emphasizes that it could and should have been done months ago, before 1,800 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced:

In a press conference on Wednesday, Netanyahu indicated that he would be open to the possibility of the PA taking control of the Rafah crossing. It’s a tragedy that this option wasn’t explored earlier. At the time the unity government was announced, Israeli security analysts Kobi Michael and Udi Dekel recommended that Israel take the opportunity to empower the PA by “focus[ing] on rebuilding and developing the Gaza Strip, with the PA in charge of the Gaza Strip crossings” – precisely what’s being considered now, 1800 deaths later. Maybe the United States should have second-guessed Netanyahu earlier, and more forcefully, on this point.

Grading the parties to the conflict on how well they fared, Aaron David Miller gives top marks to Egypt:

Egypt’s new government under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi actually comes out of this round faring better than anyone else — in part, because it was only semi-invested. The Egyptians had no illusions about this conflict. They wanted to cut Hamas down to size, keep the Qataris and the Turks out of the equation, and marginalize U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, too, for that matter. Indeed, it was Egypt that produced what appears to be the successful cease-fire. And Cairo is now the venue for the follow-on negotiations at a longer-term agreement. Egypt once again demonstrated its centrality in Arab-Israeli politics by maintaining good ties with Netanyahu and the PA. Even Hamas understands that it needs Cairo’s assistance to maintain control of Gaza. That said, if talks in Cairo falter and Gaza spirals back into conflict, Egypt could lose some prestige. But Sisi still will have bolstered key regional ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and with the Israelis. And a successful outcome might improve delicate relations with Washington, too.