Of course Israel can defend itself. Indeed, it must defend itself when its citizens are under attack. Every Palestinian in Gaza or elsewhere knows that the Israeli Defense Forces will strike with severity if Israelis fall victim to the rockets of Hamas. The past has shown this time and again.
But Israeli generals and politicians must also have been aware that a ceasefire would become virtually impossible after the death of Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’ military leader. They must have been aware that Hamas wouldn’t retreat even one inch, for days or maybe for weeks.
Israel’s leadership decided to go down the path of military intervention nonetheless and willingly accepted war against the people of Gaza, the death of many Israelis and of even more Palestinians. A war that Israel will doubtlessly win from a military perspective, but which will not prevent the rearmament of Hamas – unless Israel is willing to go so far as to hunt and kill all of Hamas’ leadership. In other words: unless Israel is willing to engage in carnage. The blood-soaked earth of the Gaza Strip would then become fertile ground for a new generation of extremists.
Neither the targeted killings of Hamas politicians in the past – an approach that some observers describe as simple murder – nor the invasion of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead have contributed to Israel’s security. Neither has Hamas been weakened by the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip that has been in place for five years. Instead, Israel now stands before the world as the sole aggressor, as a state that shows utter disregard for human rights, that is not afraid of engaging in crimes of war, that is uninterested in peace talks – at least that’s how the Arab world sees Israel today. Again.
We can conclude that Israel’s anti-terror policies in the Gaza Strip have failed. A peaceful two-state solution has become significantly more unlikely. Even Abbas in the West Bank will not be able to negotiate with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu in the near future – a “war criminal,” according to many Palestinians – if he wants to protect whatever credibility he has left. Netanyahu won’t be too upset, though. Aggressive politics improve his chances for re-election.
We must also fear that Hamas will emerge with additional strength from this conflict. Not militarily, but politically. Again. For years, Hamas was isolated even among many Palestinians. Now it has found new allies in Egypt and compatriots among the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ new theological allies regard Israel not as a political, but as a religious enemy.
Mohammed Badie, the head of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, recently condemned Israel as the “work of the devil.” It’s unlikely that someone who holds this opinion will be inclined to sit at the negotiating table with Netanyahu.
The fight in Gaza has led to a deepened alliance between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, with consequences that we cannot even estimate yet. One thing is clear already: the Middle East is currently experiencing a shift of political power that will likely be to Israel’s disadvantage. The country is increasingly isolated while Hamas and Egypt forge closer ties.
Dr. Ziad Akl, political scientist at the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, remains positive that “the strategic partnership between the two countries [Israel and Egypt], which has been in place for over thirty years, will not fundamentally change. Nuances might change, yes, but not its fundamental meaning.” His reasoning: while the Brotherhood might try to force President Mursi into a different direction (and would prefer to terminate the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel), Mursi knows that his only option is political realism. The Camp David Accord is a part of his calculation. Egypt cannot risk alienating the United States and Europe.
But Israel will not be able to rely blindly on its secret ally inside Cairo’s presidential palace. Mubarak was Israel’s best friend amidst a hostile region – a role that Mursi is unlikely to play.
And what’s next for the bearded politicians from Gaza, who like to appeal to the Quran as their highest political manifesto? They might emerge victoriously from this game of political poker. Their new friends are eager to stand by their side and have so far refrained from public criticism of Hamas. Even the Sheikh of Qatar has visited Gaza. The emirate might be small, but it is very wealthy. New alliances might even allow Hamas to move away from Iran.
Only a dead Israeli is a good Israeli to Hamas. The organization knows that countless Palestinians might die in the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks and will doubtlessly portray them as holy martyrs.
Neither side has conceded anything. The lives of those fighting on the opposing side seem insignificant in light of power politics. That’s the sad logic of this protracted conflict.