All of these points of how Israeli hardliners benefit have been raised time and time again – because to an extent they are true. But 16 days into Operation Protective Edge, the name for Israeli military action into the Gaza Strip, it’s looking like a different, unlikely party is set to prosper from it: Hamas.
There’s no question that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) seriously outmatch Hamas on the battlefield. Despite apparent reports from IDF commanders that Hamas is putting up more of a fight than previous engagements, the IDF can still defeat Hamas handily when it comes to open combat. The lethal effectiveness of Israeli strikes vs. Hamas rockets can be seen in the body count – 800 Palestinians have died thus far in the conflict while only a handful of non-combat Israelis have been killed. But what really should frighten the IDF is the specter of a previous war manifesting itself again.
In 2006, Israel and Hezbollah fought a month-long war to a stand-still. The IDF ravaged Hezbollah’s infrastructure, but otherwise accomplished little to none of its objectives. While Hezbollah launched only minor, insignificant attacks into Israel and the bulk of the fighting took place in Lebanon, Hezbollah can still claim victory by merit of not being destroyed. Hamas seems to be adopting those tactics. The IDF has seen Hamas fight more and more like Hezbollah did, creating ever more IDF casualties and, like in 2006, stopping the IDF from achieving any real objectives on the ground. For resistance movements fighting Israel, surviving is equal to winning in the propaganda war.
International Criticism of Israel:
Beyond the battlefield, Israel has backed itself into a corner politically amid widespread allegations of human rights abuses. Even the United States, its staunchest ally, has criticized Israel’s use of excessive force in the Gaza Strip, where the majority of those killed by airstrikes have been civilians. Other countries went further, supporting an inquiry into human rights abuses by Israel (the United States was the only country to dissent in that case). Israel’s case isn’t helped by the fact that today 3 UNRWA workers were killed by an Israeli attack on a UN-run school in Gaza. Given that Israel presented no proof that Hamas had any direct link to the kidnapping and murder last month of three Israeli teens prior to initiating Operation Protective Edge, the international community remains skeptical of Israel’s invasion. That is the direct opposite of what the hardliners hoped to gain abroad from the fighting.
For Hamas, the conflict is all about regaining some of its credibility. Poor governance since 2007 has hurt Hamas’ reputation – the group was more about fighting Israel than running anything. Back in its comfort zone, Hamas is proving it is still relevant. Amid fears of another MH17, the FAA banned flights to Israel for several days, demonstrating Hamas’ capability to disrupt the Israeli economy. Hamas appears to have renewed its partnership with Iran and Hezbollah, giving it a stable donor in the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Hamas’ primary aim, the reason it has not accepted a ceasefire thus far, is to achieve the end of an Israeli siege on Gaza and release imprisoned Palestinians. That latter goal may be accomplished if rumors that Hamas captured an Israeli soldier are true. The IDF claims that the soldier has been killed, but even in that case Hamas will likely be able to exchange the body for a large number of Palestinian prisoners. It’s happened before.
Watching all of this is Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. After failing in peace negotiations earlier in the year, his goal of peaceful dialogue to achieve Palestinian goals looks ever more hopeless. Mr. Abbas has nothing to gain and the IDF have even less – It’s Hamas that will benefit ultimately, but it’s a cost paid for in blood.