Since war is about inflicting pain and sustaining pain, Israel clearly can be declared the winner of the recent confrontation.
Who won the latest Hamas-Israel war? Since war is about inflicting pain, winning can be evaluated by two separate pain parameters. The first is the balance of pain inflicted by each side on the other. The second is the ability of each side to sustain pain. Based on these two parameters Israel can be declared the winner of the recent confrontation.
Material damage is a quantifiable indicator of pain. The world can see on television the magnitude of the destruction in Gaza. By contrast, only 130 missiles fired by Hamas fell in Israeli civilian centers (out of 4,300 rockets and missiles launched from Gaza). Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted 90% of the incoming missiles, seriously minimizing the material damage and casualties in Israel. Therefore, Israel inflicted much more pain on Hamas than Hamas caused to Israel.
In addition, Israel attained its declared goal: the degradation of Hamas military capabilities.
The second parameter, regarding the ability of each side to sustain pain, is more difficult to measure. But again, it would appear that Israel won the war in this regard as well.
It was Hamas that asked for a ceasefire, to end Israeli destruction of its military infrastructure and the hunting of its leadership. It was Hamas that was less willing than Israel to continue to pay the price of military conflict. Hamas sympathizers all over the world demanded a truce. In contrast, Israelis (including hard-hit residents of the Gaza envelope) were ready to continue the war.
Probably, most Israelis have mixed feelings about how this encounter ended, and wonder whether enough damage was done to Hamas military assets to deter the terrorist organization from warring again soon with Israel. This indicates great social resilience and willingness to sustain pain on the part of the Israeli public.
The war ended when it did primarily because Israel ran out of worthwhile and attainable Hamas military targets to strike from the air (– not because of international pressure on Israel). This underscores the limits of Israel’s remarkable military intelligence and of its offensive airpower. In a next round of fighting, an Israeli ground invasion might bring about better results, but that would be very costly in casualties. Moreover, Israel’s need to counter more dangerous challenges from Hizballah and Iran to the north of Israel mandates caution and the preservation of fighting forces for that front.
War is not always a zero-sum game where one side wins all. In this case, Hamas indeed scored some successes, primarily in the intra-Palestinian arena. It proved to be the “carrier of the flame of resistance to Israel,” with an emphasis on the fight for Jerusalem. However, Hamas’ capability to capitalize on this achievement is limited. It failed to change the status quo in Jerusalem. In fact, Israel re-opened the Temple Mount for Jews and tourists immediately after the truce went into effect. Moreover, most Palestinians in the West Bank did not demonstrate in support of Hamas, and fears of a Hamas takeover of the West Bank are greatly exaggerated. The IDF can prevent this.
Hamas sparked a small and short insurgency of Israeli (Moslem) Arabs against Israel. This surprised Israel and is probably Hamas’ greatest achievement. This was an awakening for Israel. Israeli leadership understands that it has a problem that must be taken care of before a multi-front war erupts.
Nor is the international fallout bleak from Israel’s perspective. The US backed Israel for eleven days of fighting, while upholding Israel’s right to defend itself. At the UN Security Council, Washington blocked several attempts to one-sidedly censor Israel or impose a ceasefire. Europeans were divided, but Israel’s friends in the EU prevented anti-Israeli resolutions from being adopted. The foreign ministers of Germany (the most important European country), the Czech Republic, and Slovakia traveled to Israel to show their support. Eastern and Central Europe stood with Israel. In an unprecedented display of support, Israeli flags were hoisted on some European government buildings and parliaments.
Most Arab states expressed only mild criticism of Israel and none recalled their ambassadors. In truth, they were happy to see Israel pummel Hamas. They know Hamas to be a Moslem Brotherhood offshoot that is an enemy for them too. Egypt, Israel’s strategic ally, got credit for the ceasefire.
Unfortunately, most of the international media continues with biased reporting against Israel, and more sympathetic journalism cannot be expected. The juxtaposition of destruction and dead children in Gaza with Iron Dome successes in intercepting Hamas missiles over Israel is not conducive to winning a media war. Moreover, automatically identifying with the weaker side is poor moral judgement.
A second goal for Israel in this war was the restoration of deterrence against Hamas, at least for a medium-term period. Indeed, Hamas will probably need time to recuperate and rebuild after this military encounter. Of course, the length of the lull between this war and the next greatly depends on how Israel will react to “minor” Hamas provocations, such as the firing of one or two missiles or the sending of incendiary balloons into Israel. Only time will tell whether Israel has been successful in buying for itself some time before it needs to “mow the grass” in Gaza again.
JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.