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Winners and Losers

So Operation Protective Edge may be over; more with a whimper than a bang. Perhaps that is the best outcome possible but it feels bad. One commentator put it this way: “Hamas 1; Israel 0”. Is that correct? Or even meaningful?

In the crude statistics of casualties, Israel came out well: 70 dead versus over 2000 Gazans. But that was never the point of the war for Israel. With few exceptions, Israelis take no pleasure in the death of Gazan civilians who made up perhaps slightly more than half of the total. Hamas itself has lost about a 1000 fighters, including some of the key figures in the terror organisation. Despite its bravado this loss is significant. But the war was about security and peace, not about casualty figures which so obsessed the feckless or ideological media. And for Israelis every person in the IDF is a member of the family and thus the loss of 64 young soldiers, in addition to the 6 civilian dead, cuts deeply into the national psyche.

For Hamas and, unfortunately, many Gazans the death of Israelis, civilian or military, is indeed a cause for celebration. This, after all, is the entire point of their existence: to destroy Israel and to kill Jews. It is no secret although the Western media have done their level best to make it so. It is clearly stated in the Hamas Charter with no hint of an apology and is reflected in their training camps, teaching of young children and the unbridled joy at the announcement of Israeli casualties.

It’s for this ultimate victory over the hated enemy that they have chosen poverty and sacrifice rather than prosperity and peace. And so the casualty figures, even the Gazan civilian deaths, are a reason for, if not exactly celebration, at least some satisfaction. Every Gazan civilian death, martyrdom in the cause, is one more dagger pointed at Israel by a media eager, or at least, willing to demonise the Jewish state.

The full role of al-Jazeera and the Western media in the Hamas propaganda front may one day be the topic of learned theses in academe and military think tanks, but some preliminary analyses are available. I strongly recommend these to anyone, within (or outside) the journalistic profession, who wishes to gain some insight into the willing or passive complicity of journalists in the propaganda war against Israel. But, putting this key element aside for the moment, what can we glean from the outcome as seen before the “negotiations” begin around the final terms of the ceasefire. Here are some thoughts.

Firstly, Israel did not score zero.

  • It destroyed numerous tunnels which posed an existential threat to its security and viability and which represented an enormous investment of money, effort and manpower by Hamas. Revealing the existence and sophistication of this massive tunnel system and the truly evil purpose behind its construction, also represents a real PR victory for Israel. It renders the “blockade” accusation constantly hurled at Israel absurd in the light of the material and human resources used in their construction.

  • This was a signal achievement along with the revelation of how ruthlessly Hamas used its civilian population (including hospitals and schools) as propaganda fodder and as shields against Israeli arms.

  • This conflict also revealed the recruitment of UNRWA as either active or passive accomplices in the grand Hamas strategy of urban warfare against a democratic and humane opponent. All this will take some time to percolate through the propaganda spin into popular consciousness in the West but will certainly be noted by political leaders and military strategists.

  • Israel has also bought a period of uncertain peace at a minimum which may be translated by diplomatic efforts into something more permanent and hopeful, though this may only be wishful thinking. Hamas is likely to be intransigent unless real pressure can be brought against Qatar and Iran. But it is unlikely to get any tangible reward for the suffering it has inflicted on the Gazan people and, when this truth does sink in, they may find popular discontent rising. The barbaric, public execution of at least 18 “collaborators” (carefully excluded or downplayed by the Western media) may have been intended to nip such ideas in the bud.

  • It has proven the efficacy of the Iron Dome against rockets while revealing how ineffective it is against short-range arms like mortars. In like vein the IDF and its support organisations will have learned a great deal from this episode.

  • This conflict has also revealed that Egypt (and probably Saudi Arabia) shares with Israel the imperative to keep Islamist terror groups and their sponsors at bay. Given the dysfunctional politics of the Middle East/North Africa, that is about the best one can hope for until post-colonial borders are redrawn and modernity and Western values make some headway in a clan-based and self-destructive political culture.

At the same time, Hamas did not come off without any gains to set against its losses.

  • Firstly, it is still around and in charge. That means it can continue to wreak mischief if it is possible to do so. Given the posturing of Iran, al-Jazeera, its Western propaganda formations and various Hamasophiles around the globe, it can polish survival into victory. There is an argument that Israel deliberately refrained from pounding Hamas into oblivion since it needs an organisation to help care for the 1.7 mil Gazans. A suitably chastened Hamas may be preferable to the rabble on their margins. But this is thumb-sucking and only the outcome of the negotiations and time will reveal the truth.

  • Its image in Gaza will go up in some quarters while it goes down in others. It is highly unlikely Gazans are happy with the continued stasis and poverty of their lives and, while much of that anger can be deflected onto Israel and the Jews (and be translated into new recruits), at least some will question the wisdom and even the morality of Hamas’s vision of a Judenrein Middle East – or at least the pleasing prospect of the return of Jews to Dhimmitude.

  • Hamas remains a potential thorn in Israel’s side to be used by Iran and Qatar in their power games in the region and in relation to the West. It also remains a threat to Diaspora Jewry since Israeli-Arab/Muslim conflict is the key ingredient in stirring up anti-Semitism and activating Islamist sentiment globally. Thus the last thing the global Jihadists and their Western allies need is a real peace and rapprochement in the Middle East – at least as long as Israel continues to function as the Jewish homeland.

  • The conflict caused significant disruption of Israeli life: evacuation of the majority of the Southern Israel population, negative economic effects, a fall in tourism, exacerbated political divisions and, perhaps, fraying of the (false) aura of Israeli military omnipotence. It will strengthen the right wing, even though Israel has always demonstrated amazing pragmatism and moderation when push comes to shove.

So anything less than outright surrender is something of an Israeli defeat and something of a Hamas victory. A lot will hinge on the negotiations and the diplomatic front. Israel will need to demonstrate both firmness and creativity. Somehow it must wean the Palestinian population away from the path of intransigence and the attractions of resistance. It must hold up the prospect of prosperity and a dignified co-existence without sacrificing its own security. It must deal with powerful but unpredictable and self-interested Western allies like the USA, without losing its own freedom to act in its best self-interest.

If all this seems like an impossibly tall order, it is only the hard reality. The struggle continues and the Jewish people will need all their courage and sense to see it through to the end.

Mike Berger





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