Through the Eyes of a Squad Leader

How is victory defined? If one sets goals that are vague enough, such as ?changing the security situation,? everyone can claim victory.

How to define victory? The squad leader is bound to have a very clear answer. The chief of staff and the politician will probably begin to philosophize over it. They will all agree without difficulty, though, that one's definition of victory depends on the goal.

So if one sets goals that are vague enough, such as "changing the security situation," everyone can claim victory. If the Qassams stop, then we will have won. And if we set terms for the opening of the Rafah crossing, then we will have also won. And if we restore our deterrence, we will have most certainly won.

Generally speaking, wars are very convenient for making such definitions. But when the war ends, Gaza will no longer be ruled by a "terrorist organization" running the Strip, but by a government with status, which will set terms for any regional move Israel aspires to carry out. That's because Hamas stands to gain through war what it has failed to achieve through its sweeping victory in the Palestinian elections.

Hamas, as it turns out, has a single definition for victory. Like Hezbollah, Hamas knows that a few hundred rockets will not crush Israel, but rather serve as critically-needed leverage to establish its presence as a prominent and active decision-making force in the inter-Palestinian arena. This goes beyond Hamas' standing as the only Palestinian force engaged in a liberation struggle with the conqueror. It refers to the organization's success in reshuffling the Middle Eastern deck of cards.

The deep rift - even conflict - between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria is Hamas' handiwork. It is a repeat of Hezbollah's successful efforts to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Syria. Similarly to its role in Lebanon, Iran has turned into a significant force in the diplomatic battleground around Gaza.

The international boycott of Hamas, the fruit of Israel's labor, is developing ever-widening cracks. A similar process occurred when Hezbollah made the boycott on Syria go away with its achievements in Lebanon.

Already France is initiating plans for a cease-fire, and in the near future it will agree to talk to Hamas. The Turkish prime minister has already met with the head of Hamas' political department, Khaled Meshal, and with Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shalah. And although these meetings were public, Israel protested by sounding the traditional horn of condemnation.

In a broken voice, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a placatory speech last week in which he not only blamed Israel for the war, but also invited Hamas to a reconciliation with and even possible incorporation into the PLO. Abbas even hinted that he would put an end to peace talks with Israel if he is convinced that they are leading nowhere.

This week, Abbas appeared to be the least relevant figure in this war. Instead of becoming the most senior Palestinian leader conducting talks with Israel to put an end to the hostilities, he turned himself into the leader of just one Palestinian faction, an "exiled leader" capable of nothing more than making compassionate speeches.

Like Hezbollah, Hamas is not a popular organization among Arab regimes. These two entities are not unpopular because they represent radical Shi'ite Islam. It is because they are disrupting the traditional balance of power that allows Arab powers like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Syria to set the rules for the rest of the region's countries.

Moreover, they destroy the roles of inter-Arab organizations like the Arab League, and expose them to ridicule. They are constructing a new Middle Eastern order in which the organization is the state.

Through a painful process wrought with intense stomach cramps and nausea, the Arab nations are gradually internalizing this reality. They are already aspiring for a stable regime in the territories, be it under Hamas or the Wizard of Oz for all they care, as long as the Palestinian issue stops haunting them with street protests in their cities.

Israel, by contrast, has not yet fully grasped the shift. This war will surely clarify matters for Jerusalem, making it more evident that it is impossible to negotiate with Abbas while killing hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza. Gaza and the West Bank are two regions of one nation, under a split leadership whose two halves are at odds with one another. Hamas wants to consolidate this realization in Israel's mind through this war, and will continue the war even if it achieves a cease-fire and the crossings are reopened. The smuggling tunnels will be rebuilt.

For Hamas, the definition of victory does not depend on the number of casualties or changing the security situation. The next stage for Hamas will be to use the war for political and internal leverage, because the organization has already achieved its objectives in terms of deterrence.

At any given moment, all it takes is one Qassam to disrupt the entire order of things. Hamas is thinking like a regional power. Israel is still looking at things through the eyes of a squad leader.