Israel began its Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on December 27, 2008, an almost three-week long bloodbath which killed or wounded thousands of civilians.
Taking into consideration the lessons the regime learned from its defeat in the summer 2006 war against the Lebanese Hezbollah, Tel Aviv avoided setting out any specific objectives for its military operation in a bid to enable it to claim victory after the conflict ended.
The Israeli military initially presumed that it could settle its old score with Hamas and crush the movement in a matter of days. Relying on the support of some Arab states which viewed Hamas’s defeat as a blow to Iran, the regime, therefore, took the opportunity provided by the transitional period in the White House and escalated its bombing campaign into a full-blown ground offensive to kill Hamas leaders once and for all.
The plan, however, blew up in the face of its masterminds; everything spiraled out of control and the Israeli Army found itself stuck in a quagmire. Subsequently, the leaders of the Kadima Party who were on the brink of political bankruptcy and had resorted to the plan to save themselves ahead of the general elections, had to hastily find a way to clean up the mess.
They unilaterally declared a truce to break the deadlock while disguising their military failure as a humanitarian act.
However, Israeli military and political officials interestingly are still boasting about a decisive victory over Hamas. The reality on the ground proves the opposite; it indicates a defeat more humiliating than what the regime suffered in the 33-day war.
Israel was, without doubt, the loser because:
1- From the military perspective, “the most powerful” army in the Middle East which faced only a militia group hardly advanced into the Gaza Strip’s urban areas. It faced fierce resistance and realized that the price of any military victory would be too high.
2- At the beginning of the operation, Israel announced that the operation was aimed at preventing rocket attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups against Israeli towns. Palestinians, however, continued striking Israeli targets, even in the last hours of the war.
3- Hamas extended the range of its rockets and managed to hit targets as far away as 60 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. In fact, the Israeli operation helped Hamas boost its military might.
4- In the course of killing civilians, the Israeli regime set up a factory for producing living time bombs which will jeopardize the security situation for Israel. Civilian casualties in any conflict always radicalize members of bereaved families. Following the massacre of civilians in Gaza, it is more likely that those Palestinians who adopted a nonviolent approach to resist the Israeli occupation, will now turn to military tactics. Keep in mind that many of them have noting to lose.
5- Israel hastily signed an agreement with the US-a third party which was not directly involved in the war-to prevent “the arm smuggling” into the Gaza Strip. The deal envisaged measures to prevent Hamas from rearming, going so far as to for example seek US assistance in policing sea routes to Gaza and providing Egypt with the equipment to destroy smuggling tunnels along its border with the coastal sliver. This was however nothing but a propaganda tactic to persuade public opinion that the war had had some achievements. Shin Bet’s announcement that Hamas will be able to rearm within a few months supports this notion. The Israeli media has also revealed that Washington has given no guarantees to Tel Aviv that Hamas would not be rearmed.
6- Hamas has vowed to restore its arsenals, dealing a blow to Israeli officials who claim that the movement has been “punished” and it knows that it cannot continue its armed campaign against Israel.
7- No high-ranking Hamas leader, except Said Siyam, was killed in the Israeli operation. In fact, it is estimated that out of more than thousands of victims of the Israeli offensive, only 95 people were Hamas members and most of them were killed on the first day of the attack when Hamas was caught off guard due to alleged betrayal of some Arab states.
8- Israel’s defeat by a small group has shattered the image of an invincible army that overpowered the army of several Arab nations in 1967. It would not be surprising if Israel’s arch foes were encouraged to settle their old score with the regime after its recent defeat. No matter what you have in your arsenals, you are considered the loser if you have been defeated in your enemy’s mind. Israel seems to have entered the spiral of decline.
9- From the political perspective, Israel’s situation is not any better than the one in the military arena. For the first time, two Israeli ambassadors were expelled, a big diplomatic humiliation for Tel Aviv.
10- The indiscriminate killing of civilians including women and children drew international condemnation to the point that the US, which always vetoes UN Security Council resolutions against Israel, was neutralized and gave in to mounting international pressure when the council voted on a binding resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.
11- Israel’s strategy of decreasing Hamas’s popularity through putting pressure on the Gazans has obviously backfired. The Islamic movement emerged more popular than ever before after the war, because any group or person who deals a blow to Israel will be praised as a hero in the eyes of Arab nations. We witnessed the phenomenon during the 33-day war which made Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah the most popular Arab leader in the Islamic world.
12- Following the Gaza war, Mahmoud Abbas’s political life came to an end. Now, Abbas who was reportedly preparing himself for returning to Gaza after the Hamas government was toppled, has to desperately beg to political brokers to find a place for him in the political future of Palestine. If Abbas loses in the Palestinian Authority general elections – a strong possibility given the situation after the Gaza war- Israel will lose its partner for peace talks.
13- Kadima’s hopes for victory in the upcoming elections have been dashed. In other words, right-wing parties like the Likud and people like Israel Beitenu’s and Shas’s hawks will come to power, fanatics who do not even believe in peace. Israel should brace itself for days during which there would be no hope for a political solution to the current conflict.
14- The Gaza war managed another sort of uncalled for achievement for Israel: it united all Muslims and anti-Israeli parties across the world! The world has never witnessed such massive anti-Israeli rallies.
15- Hamas has set a good example for others. A small group managed to defeat the most powerful army in the Middle East. It would not be surprising if someday, we see Israel struggling to survive in a battle with a host of small or big groups and organizations which adopt military resistance as their approach.
16- The Israelis have realized that their leaders are unable to protect them; there is no safe place inside the occupied territories. It means that Israel’s worst nightmare is coming true: a dramatic rise in the rate of negative immigration followed by major demographical impacts. It could shake the foundation of the Israeli regime through changing the Jewish people to a minority group in occupied Palestine. The apprehensions about this issue have so far prompted the regime to deny Palestinian refugees the right to return to their land.
17- After the war, the world is recognizing Hamas as a major player whose role can no longer be ignored and it cannot be excluded from any political process in the Middle East.
18- Prime Minister Ismail Haniya called the war “Forqan”, a Quranic word meaning what separates good and evil. The outcome of the war weakened those Arab states who had adopted a pro-Israeli stance. On the other hand, it also highlighted the significance of the role of pro-resistance countries including Iran and Syria. Therefore, the balance of power has changed with regards to Israel’s interests.
19- Kadima leaders made a fool of themselves and showed that they lack the qualifications required to lead the regime. Kadima, which was set up by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to end the regime’s political deadlock, committed a political suicide by attacking Gaza.
20- The war also weakened the political base of those leaders of Islamic countries who are close to Israel. They have to face their people. The process has already started as we have witnessed demonstrations in some countries in which political or social protests are rare.
21- Despite nonstop bombing of the Gaza Strip by unconventional weapons, Gazans kept their high morale, a fact reported by Western journalists. There were no long queues of people at border crossings wanting to flee to a safe place. Inside Israeli towns, scores of people were treated for “shock” everyday. In other words, Israel has also lost the psychological war.
22- The war unfortunately fueled anti-Semitic sentiments across the world. Although attacks on Jews or their property under any pretext are certainly condemned, the fact indicates that Israel, despite paying lip service to the world Jewry, never considers the interests of the Jewish. Tel Aviv even turned down a request by 11 prominent leaders of the British Jewish community who asked the regime to stop its offensive for the sake of their security.
23- There are and will be groups which will open legal cases against Israel in international courts for its war crimes in Gaza. If Hamas had been destroyed, Israeli leaders might have been able to claim that it had been worth paying such a heavy price. But without achieving anything, how can they justify their acts which have drawn a wave of international condemnation?
The Gaza war has certainly changed the status quo against Israel. History seems to repeat itself; the situation is the same as that of the days after the end of the 33-Day War except for one thing: this time, the regime has no excuse to justify its defeat; there was no inexperienced defense minister leading the war.
The Gaza war dealt the last blow to the Israeli regime and its end result is the start of a battle within the regime which will put its very existence at risk.
Those who make a mistake once may be considered as inexperienced but those who repeat their mistakes are certainly judged as being “incompetent and insane”. Shall we expect another Winograd report?