Hamas's "victories" and Israel's "defeats"

Hamas may continue to wave the banners, pretending to “win” each and every military conflict against the “Zionist entity” but Israel, for its part, shouldn’t mind “losing” them all

Triumph? Really?
Fabio Rafael Fiallo
On 29 November 2012 17:52

To judge by the cheering statements of the Hamas leadership and by the scenes of joy in the streets of Gaza, in celebration of the ceasefire that ended eight days of fighting, it is near to impossible not to believe that Hamas came out as winner from the latest escalation of violence between that movement and Israel. To justify its jubilation, Hamas claims that it managed to “withstand” the “Zionist entity”.

That type of proclamation of victory is defended on the grounds that in an asymmetric warfare, the allegedly weaker party wins if the stronger side fails to annihilate it.

That narrative has been used many times. It was at work, for instance, at the end of the first Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein, despite being forced to accept a cessation of hostilities that looked pretty much like an unconditional surrender, pretended to have achieved a “moral victory” because it stood up against the “American empire”.

The argumentation, however, doesn’t hold water. If that was an appropriate method of assessing the outcome of a military confrontation, one wouldn’t have to wait until the end of a conflict to know who the loser will be. In the case of Israel, every time the Jewish State decides to forcefully respond to a wave of terrorist attacks, it would have to announce at the outset that it will surely lose the standoff, for its objective is not to annihilate the enemy but to force the latter to cease the attacks.

There exists a more appropriate criterion to evaluate the result of asymmetric military conflicts. Here it is: for a belligerent party to claim victory, it has to meet two conditions. One, it must have obtained, through warfare, concessions that the other party had refused to grant beforehand (otherwise, why should a party go to war if it could have secured its objectives via non-military suasion?). Two, the gains obtained by means of warfare must more than compensate the loses suffered during the conflict.

And it so happens that, on both counts, Hamas appears to be on the losing side.

For starters, Hamas prides itself on having secured a commitment by Israel to abstain from targeting those responsible for terrorist attacks. What Hamas forgets to acknowledge, however, is the fact that, reciprocally, it committed to preventing such attacks. Hamas, therefore, could have avoided the losses it endured during the eight-day fighting if it had stopped the rocket fire before the Israeli counterattack.

Hamas argues, too, that the recent standoff provided the occasion for the new Egyptian government, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, to display its solidarity vis-à-vis Hamas. For sure, the affinities between Hamas and Egypt’s Brotherhood were well known before the eight-day conflict. But what the standoff did reveal was not that solidarity, but rather, the limits thereof.

Indeed, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s chief in Gaza, went as far as making a public appeal to the Egyptian government to intervene against Israel: “We call upon the brothers in Egypt to take the measures that will deter this enemy”. Yet, instead of paying heed to that request, the new Egyptian government (eager to preserve the US financial aid and unable to take for granted the loyalty of the army) preferred to advertise itself as mediator by brokering a ceasefire.

Hamas takes further pride on having launched missiles able to strike Israel’s territory as far away as Tel-Aviv. Nonetheless, to Hamas’s displeasure, that experiment showed how imprecise the targeting was and, no less important, how advanced Israel’s antimissile system proved to be.

What is more, Hamas boasts of having forced Israel to ease the restrictions imposed on the traffic of goods and persons from and towards the Gaza Strip. Hamas forgets that, in exchange, it is obliged to cease the attacks against Israel’s territory, failing which Israel will harden the restrictions again.

Hamas cannot even show off a victory in the public-opinion terrain. Throughout the eight-day Hamas-Israel confrontation, the so-called “Arab Street” remained on the sidelines, and so did the mechanical, anti-Israel majority at the UN.

To summarize, it can be said that everything that Hamas pretends to have won through the recent armed conflict with Israel, Hamas could have obtained without having to endure the substantial damage that Israel caused to that organization.

As a matter of fact, it is Israel – and not Hamas – that attained objectives that couldn’t have been reached otherwise than through warfare.

Firstly, by eliminating Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, Israel dealt a major blow to Hamas’s top echelon. Secondly, Israel inflicted heavy losses to the movement’s military arsenal, including the destruction or major deterioration of 19 command centers, 980 underground rocket launchers and 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities (IDF figures). Last but not least, Israel was able to successfully test its antimissile defense system, “Iron Dome” (85-90 percent effectiveness). And now that the system has proven its efficacy in a real-war scenario, Israel can proceed to make technical improvements and seek cost-reducing methods of fabrication.

In the light of these considerations, Hamas may continue to wave the banners, pretending to “win” each and every military conflict against the “Zionist entity”. Israel, for its part, shouldn’t mind “losing” them all.

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is an economist and a former UN official. The author of four books, he writes on issues related to international politics and the world economy

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