That headline will seem premature to post people, but any strictly military analysis of what’s happened in the last month confirms Hamas’ defeat.
This was supposed to be a war that would see Tel Aviv go up in flames, and Israeli cities were to be flattened by thousands of Hamas rockets. That didn’t happen. Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system worked exceptionally well.
And though Hamas started the war with its missile attacks, it soon lost the initiative to Israel, which attacked Gaza in force. The result was the destruction of hundreds of missiles, the capture of large numbers of Hamas fighters, and the killing of hundreds more.
Hamas’ “secret weapon” — the vast network of attack tunnels to allow its fighters to enter Israel — has been exposed and largely destroyed.
If this had been any other war, at any other time, the results would be clear to all. Israel’s military has won; Hamas has lost.
But this is war in the age of Twitter — and politics has become the extension of war by other means.
While Israeli forces have routed their Hamas opponents on the ground, in the battlefield of global public opinion, Hamas has the upper hand.
This has happened largely because of Israel’s failure to minimize the number of civilians killed on the Palestinian side.
Israel has made huge efforts to do this, including dropping leaflets from the sky, sending text messages to Palestinian families, and even the practice of hitting buildings that are about to the struck with dud warheads, as a warning. No doubt this has reduced the number of civilian deaths. But it has not been good enough, and that’s not me saying that, it’s President Obama. And he is right.
There can be no more civilian deaths on either side; this has to stop now.
I believe that a ceasefire will happen, sooner or later, even if all the ceasefires so far have been failures. When that ceasefire does come, its terms will confirm what I have already said.
The latest ceasefire (already broken) saw Hamas back down from all its preconditions, agreeing to quiet in exchange for quiet. It accepted that Israeli forces could remain in place, inside Gaza, during the ceasefire. It agreed that they could continue to destroy tunnels, if those tunnels were behind Israeli lines.
That was a massive capitulation by Hamas, and evidence of its military weakness.
The question now is, what next? What happens after a ceasefire?
This is where the Israeli leadership needs to show courage, and to take some risks. Because in the immediate aftermath of the eventual ceasefire we’re going to get, we have an historic opportunity to break the deadlock.
Netanyahu and the Israeli right are not going to like this, but this will be the perfect moment for Israel to make some big changes to its policies.
- Instead of refusing to talk to the Hamas-PLO unity government, Israel should join the USA in welcoming its formation, and welcoming it to peace talks. Israel should apply an updated version of the old Shemtov-Yariv formula which allowed negotiations with any Palestinians who recognized Israel and repudiated terror.
- Israel should encourage the Palestinian Authority (PA), possibly with Egyptian help, to immediately take control of security in Gaza and to bring a permanent halt to missile attacks on the Jewish state.
- Israel and Egypt should end the blockade of Gaza, and together with the PA ensure that the flow of weapons from Iran and elsewhere to Gaza ceases immediately. The same measures that are in place today in the West Bank (where no one speaks of a blockade) should be in place in Gaza as well.
- Israel should welcome the PA’s application to become full members of the United Nations, and should offer to be the first state in the world to welcome a full Palestinian ambassador to present his credentials to the Israeli President in Jerusalem.
- Israel should announce that it embraces the principles of the Geneva Accord and welcomes the Arab Peace Initiative, is prepared to give up land for peace, and to close down the settlements.
I admit that it’s hard to imagine Netanyahu and his right-wing allies embracing any of these points. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Netanyahu’s party represents a small fraction of Israeli voters (only 20 of the 120 seats in the Knesset are held by the Likud). Alternative ruling coalitions are possible, with or without new elections.
It is not guaranteed that Netanyahu will continue to benefit from high levels of public support. Just as there are signs in Gaza of ordinary people growing tired of Hamas, most Israelis want peace and quiet too.
Whoever leads Israel needs to show the same courage that its soldiers have always shown, and to take risks for peace. Because the alternative — endless war — cannot be allowed to happen.