Israel really did win the 2006 Second Lebanon War, at least in its Palestinian context. Hezbollah didn’t lift a finger when Israel attacked the Gaza Strip three times since then. Deterrence works.
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Israel really did win the 2014 war against the Palestinians in Gaza. The proof: The blockade of the Strip hasn’t been lifted. Gaza residents continue to serve a life sentence cut off from the part of the world they should be most connected to: the West Bank and Israel. A thousand charity ships from Turkey won’t set them free.
To Israel’s satisfaction, the 2014 onslaught hasn’t healed the internal Palestinian political rift. More proof: Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said last week that no new war was in sight.
We must read that as a declaration saying it’s impossible to once again sacrifice the despairing public on the altar of the national – and Hamas’ – honor. Deterrence works, even if Hamas’ military leaders boast that they’ve lengthened by a few centimeters the missiles they’ve bought, smuggled and manufactured themselves. And yes, deterrence is war crimes.
This month the 10-year and two-year anniversaries of these two dark chapters were added to their predecessors in Israeli history. Once we were comforted that over the long term crime doesn’t pay. But the short term has extended into the medium term, and the medium term is nearing the long term, and the West hasn’t severed relations with Israel despite the mass demonstrations against Israel. And it has even developed a symmetry between the occupation and “incitement.”
Meanwhile, Arab nations haven’t enlisted to aid their brothers in Palestine, American-Israeli defense cooperation hasn’t been halted, Germany has sold us submarines and there are lots of foreign films at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
The Gaza Strip isn’t an independent state, even if Hamas likes to act as a sovereign. Gaza is part of the Palestinian territory captured in 1967, and by a vote of most countries in the world it’s defined as a UN nonmember state.
The parameters of Israeli domination over Gaza are different from those in the West Bank and Jerusalem – but they don’t make Gaza liberated. A reminder: Israel continues to control the Palestinian population registry in the West Bank and Gaza. It decides who’s a resident and who isn’t, who will receive an ID card at age 16 and who won’t. This is the prerogative of an occupier.
Every occupied people has the right and obligation to fight the occupation. But in the choice of means for the fight, the leaders must take into account factors besides the purity of the right and the justice of the fury: military capability, ethics, international law, common sense, the international environment, the internal situation.
The wars against Gaza were the continuation of the policy by military means. Elementary. The policy? To cut off the Strip as part of an attempt to fragment the Palestinian people until it stops acting as a people. But even Hamas’ choice of military confrontations with Israel has reflected the promotion of its political goals by other means.
In 2006 the so-called Dahiya Doctrine of asymmetric warfare – named after Hezbollah’s stronghold in south Beirut that gets flattened – taught those who had forgotten that on the field of battle and arms, Israel is the champion. Hamas decided to take the risk and compete on this field, and failed. As an organization with an army, Hamas isn’t just a passive party. The Gazans paid a heavy price for this translation of the national Islamic organization’s policy into a military confrontation.
The policy? To compete with the PLO over leadership, to become a decisive factor in Arab and Muslim politics, possibly to strengthen Hamas’ Gaza wing, and to sweep away the internal criticism over Gaza’s hopeless situation and the failures of the Gilad Shalit prisoner-exchange deal in 2011.
In the universe of online commentators, this doesn’t make sense: Either Israel wants wars and commits war crimes or Hamas wanted a confrontation. But the real world isn’t either/or, it’s both at the same time.
As an occupying force responsible for the occupied population, Israel crossed every red line in its attacks. In eternal disgrace, Israel will be remembered for one of the characteristics of the last war; the bombing of buildings with all their occupants inside.
The Israeli military has kept silent. It doesn’t explain what proportional military need stood behind the bombing of 142 buildings when entire families, old people, women and children slept inside or ate meals there after the daily Ramadan fast. That’s 142 buildings – 742 people killed.
For its part, Hamas sold illusions on the prospects of a struggle with missiles and tunnels against Israel and its enormous achievements. The armed struggle is a mythic value that’s unassailable among the Palestinians and many of their supporters. In both the Palestinian diaspora and the West Bank, many people measured Hamas’ patriotism by the yardstick of its missile range.
And what about the constantly traumatized Gaza? I don’t believe anyone there who says he supports another round in which Israel destroys tens of thousands of homes, disables thousands of people for life, kills hundreds more children, women, old people and young people, and creates thousands more orphans. I don’t believe this even when compensation is the brief thrill of an Iranian missile intercepted by Iron Dome, the disruption of flights at Ben-Gurion International Airport or the blowing up of an Israeli tank inside another destroyed, smoking and bleeding residential neighborhood.