Most of those who care for the welfare of Israel were disappointed by the outcome of the Gaza operation and the Israeli unilateral cease fire declaration. They have the illusion that a better outcome was possible. The general outlines of what had to happen were scripted in advance.
Israel's options in the Gaza conflict were always limited by obvious parameters. Those who insist that retaking Gaza would stop the rockets forgot that there were Qassam rockets falling when the IDF was in Gaza and when the IDF patrolled the Philadelphi corridor.
Whether or not Israel was inflicting strategic damage on the Hamas in operation Cast Lead, it was clear that the growing number of casualties would make it impossible to continue the operation very much longer. Hamas understood this as well, and held out for an "agreement" that would have humiliated Israel. They reckoned, perhaps rightly, that they only had to wait for the inauguration of Barack Obama to create a situation where all their demands would be met. The Hamas government would have acquired explicit international legitimacy and Israel would face a disaster in Gaza. Therefore, the Israeli government did the only thing possible under the circumstances, and declared this strange unilateral truce.
All of the following must be true of any Israeli attack on Gaza at any time, and we knew that in advance:
* No matter how long Israel suffers the rockets in silence before reacting, during the action, the foreign media will almost completely neglect the original provocation by the Hamas, and rewrite history so that Israel is made out to be the aggressor. In this case, not only al Aqsa and Al-Manara television, but "respectable" outlets like Time Magazine joined in the chorus of lies and half truths.
* Hamas aims will be concealed from the public and bloody photos of Arab casualties will be given prominence.
* In the atmosphere that is created by media coverage, it would be impossible for Israel to continue the assault indefinitely.
* If one Hamas terrorist is left alive after the attack, the Hamas will declare victory, as indeed they have already done.
We have discussed many of these issues and constraints before ( for example: War in Gaza? No easy answers for Gaza, Gaza Monopoly ) This set of circumstances makes ideal political fodder, since right wing opponents of the Israeli government can always insist, while they are safely out of office, that they could vanquish the Hamas, and that only government incompetence stands in the way of a great victory. On paper, it is a realistic proposition. In the real world, it is unlikely.
On the other hand, the anti-Israel crowd can rant about Zionist "war crimes" as long as the action is going on, and then bray that the Hamas won a big victory and that the evil Zionists have not learned that there is no military solution. There is nothing "fair" about this game. The "peace advocates" and "humanitarians" have no compunction whatever about insisting that Israel only wants a military solution, forgetting that it is Hamas who declare day and night that Jihad is the only way.
Israel is fighting a war of containment and attrition in Gaza and elsewhere. This is a most frustrating and unpopular sort of war, fought with information, disinformation and psychological warfare even more than with guns, and requiring infinite patience. In such wars especially, "victory" and "defeat" in specific battles are often hard to define, and everyone can claim "victory." What is important ultimately is not who gets the best of each encounter, but who survives. The USSR inflicted humiliating defeats on the West in Eastern Europe and China after WW II, in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia and in Viet Nam. In the final tally all these incidents are of peripheral importance.
The military scorecard is clear. Gaza was not Lebanon. The IDF functioned like a precision fighting machine in gaining the tactical objectives set for it. The mistake of the Israeli government perhaps, is in thinking that any amount of destruction would bring Hamas to the negotiating table, and that the political outcome of the war would be related to actual military facts. Facts do not matter, as new and more convenient facts are invented all the time to suit the fancy of partisans, and their interpretation is in the eyes of the beholder.
In this contest, the Hamas, who can totally control its domestic political environment, and has no requirement to tell the truth, has a great advantage. You won't hear a lot of Gaza politicians complaining about Hamas leadership. They won't complain for long, in any case. The Hamas Izzedine-Al-Qassam Brigades Web site is claiming a great victory for the Hamas, and "hundreds" of Israeli casualties. They can cite an authority:
Likud MP admits failure of Zionist military aggression on Gaza
Zionist Likud lawmaker Yisrael Katz admitted the failure of the Zionist military aggression on the Gaza Strip, asserting that Zionist entity did not achieve its goals in the war which resulted in hundreds of casualties in the ranks of its troops. (source: alqassam.ps/english/?action=showdetail&fid=1423)
A canard circulating in the Arab Internet claims:
The real information based on hospital records and military reports shows that Israel has lied to the media about the casualties during Gaza offensive. This is because if the Israel public knew they've lost and defeated so, there would be riots like never seen before .According to reports, more than 741 IDF forces have been killed or injured during the war; among the 96 death tolls, 22 officers and two top commanders. The authentic records of hospitals and military services , under extensive censorship, reveals that apart from hard destructions in Israeli settlements infrastructure, about 22 dead and 220 injured civilians by Hamas rockets hit reports. The military authorities in Tel Aviv confirm taking over of 17 Merkavaa tanks and 22 other Aschzarit MK1, 1 reconnaissance war plane and two helicopters by the resistance forces.
. For those who don't like this reality, they have an alternative one available. This is reinforced by the Israeli mindset, which turns each minor setback into a full blown catastrophe. Israeli hostage Gilad Schalit has probably gotten more media attention than all the America prisoners of war in Vietnam put together. Every Grad rocket that hits Beersheva produces a psychological impact equivalent to that of the Nazi bombing of Coventry, if not greater. In those conditions, no matter what the IDF will do, it will be next to impossible to achieve the perception of victory.
If, in a year or two, Hamas is stronger than ever, and has achieved an agreement like the Doha accords that entrenched Hezbollah in Lebanon, then we have to say that this war failed to achieve any constructive objective. On the other hand, if the military success of the IDF served notice to the Arab world and Europe that the problem of Hamas terror has to be dealt with, and some serious attempts are made to curtail smuggling of weapons and reduce the political prestige of the Hamas, then Israel achieved a victory.
One important lesson of the above, is that if victory in Gaza is in the eyes of the beholder, the actual political outcome will depend very little on the physical achievements of the IDF and objective conditions in Gaza, and very much on our attitude toward those achievements and conditions. Think about it.
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Replies: 1 Comment
"Those who insist that retaking Gaza would stop the rockets forgot that there were Qassam rockets falling when the IDF was in Gaza and when the IDF patrolled the Philadelphi corridor."
But not Grads. And they didn't have (or had fewer) anti-aircraft missiles. And they couldn't send personnel to Iran for training. The memorandum signed with the US promises little. Technology is no match for motivation, especially when some of the partners are not especially willing (e.g., Egypt).
You are right that no matter how many civilian casualties there were, the media would cry 'massacre'. So it doesn't make sense that extending the operation another day or two would have created 'unacceptable' casualties. Anything is 'unacceptable' to the Guardian.
It is probably true that the IDF knew the location of Hamas' control center and top leadership. I was told by a former member of one of the units that might perform such an operation that Israel could, if it wished, penetrate this site and arrest Haniyeh, etc. with a low risk of IDF and civilian casualties.
One of Israel's goals was or should have been the release of Gilad Shalit. Does the Hamas leadership know where he's held? Probably. Would it not be an acceptable end to this war to bring Shalit home and then prosecute Haniyeh et al for the war crimes which they committed?
Vic Rosenthal, Monday, January 19th
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