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article imageOp-Ed: So who really won the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

By Sami Zaatari     Nov 22, 2012 in World
Gaza - Now that the dust seems to have settled with the end of hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians, reached through a brokered ceasefire led heavily by the Egyptians, we turn our attention to who actually came out of this conflict as the winners.
From the outset, I will say that this conflict, dubbed Operation Pillar Of Defence by the Israelis, has not only been a military failure, but a major strategic failure as well.
Let's just look at the facts. When Israel initiated their operation, they had set out clear and defined objectives; their main goal as the IDF made clear, was to protect the southern communities of Israel from the rocket fire, and to strike at the militants. Netanyahu himself made a public announcement on the first day of the conflict stating boldly Israel's objectives, in his own words:
Hamas and the terror organizations decided to escalate their attacks on the citizens of Israel over the last few days. We will not accept a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by the terror of rockets. No country would accept this, Israel will not accept it. Today, we hit Hamas strategic targets precisely. We have significantly debilitated their ability to launch rockets from Gaza to the center of Israel, and we are now working to disable their ability to launch rockets towards the south.
So Netanyahu made the objectives crystal clear, to protect Israel from the rocket fire, and not only to protect Israel from rocket attacks, but to also go as far as disabling the ability of Palestinian militants to launch their rockets.
Well if those were the objectives, then no matter how you look at them, whether you're pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian or simply neutral, those objectives have been an absolute failure.
Let's start with the first objective, to protect the citizens of Israel. Did Netanyahu's war make Israel any safer? As soon as Israel initiated their operation, Palestinian rocket fire greatly increased as a result, with hundreds of rockets being fired into Israel during the course of this war. So how exactly did that make Israel any safer when as a consequence of the war, rocket fire increased in large numbers? According to the IDF itself, Palestinians launched just under 1000 rockets during the conflict, so in essence Israel's operation led to a dramatic increase in rocket attacks towards Israel.
Then comes what is perhaps the biggest sign of failure to the Israeli operation: what started as an operation to protect the southern Israeli communities from rocket fire, turned into an operation to protect the rest of Israel from rocket fire, as Palestinian militants began firing rockets towards Tel Aviv, something that had never happened before. Not only did Palestinian militants launch rockets towards Tel Aviv, but began to launch rockets towards Jerusalem as well. So the rocket fire was no longer confined or limited to the southern communities of Israel, the rocket fire was now a threat to all of Israel, so how exactly did Israel's operation make Israeli communities any safer? As a consequence of their operation, the theatre of war had greatly expanded to new boundaries and new cities, more Israelis were now under threat than before the operation had been launched.
Then comes the bus bombing that wounded more than 10 Israelis. What makes this bus bombing highly significant? It was the first bombing to have taken place in Tel Aviv in 6 years, which leads us back to our question, did this operation make Israel any safer? What started as an operation to end the rocket fire towards Southern Israel had led to a dramatic escalation of rocket attacks, it also led to the rocket fire hitting new areas that were never targeted before, and it also led to the first bombing to take place Tel Aviv in 6 years. So objectively speaking, Netanyahu's operation hadn't made Israel any safer, it had led to a major increase in Israel's national security threat.
Israel's major military failure was in the fact that they never nullified or ended the Palestinian rocket fire, which Israel had set as an objective from the start of the war, up until the very last few moments before the ceasefire came into effect. Palestinians were still firing rockets towards Israel, and hence the militants' rocket capabilities were never halted.
Israel's military can discuss all the damage they did to Hamas, but in any war between Israel and Palestinian militants, you always know that the militants will take significant damage, that's a given. No Palestinian militant goes into a major conflict with Israel expecting to emerge unscathed. The most crucial objective of the militants is simply to ensure that their own military capabilities are never completely nullified or destroyed. Within this conflict the militants' capabilities were never really jeopardised or came anywhere close to a complete defeat. In fact 4 years ago in Operation Cast Lead, Palestinian militants had sustained a far more lethal Israeli attack, that had also included a ground invasion, and yet 4 years on those same militants were able to expand their range of rocket fire; so Israel's talk of how much destruction they caused is simply a diversion away from the actual military and strategical purposes of the conflict, which isn't to simply hurt Hamas and other Palestinian militants, but to completely cripple them as well as neutralising their rocket capabilities, which they have failed to do. Israel itself came out and defined the objectives, which was to neutralise and end the militants' capabilities of rocket fire.
Another major strategic failure for Israel comes from the political side of things, 4 years ago when Hamas and Israel went to war, the diplomatic scene differed significantly, especially in the Arab world. For example 4 years ago when it came to Egypt, the foreign minister of the time put the blame on Hamas for the conflict, whereas this time, the Egyptian establishment is firmly behind the Palestinians, both in terms of public statements, as well as major symbolical public gestures, such as sending their Prime Minister to the Gaza Strip in the midst of the conflict, to show their firm backing of the Palestinians. This symbolic act was followed by the visits of foreign ministers from Turkey, Qatar, Lebanon, Sudan, Iraq, Morocco, and Jordan.
So in comparison to four years ago, Hamas hasn't been politically isolated at all. Instead, as a result of this conflict, Hamas has been greatly strengthened in terms of its diplomatic stature, not only has it been strengthened in terms of its diplomatic stature, its popularity has also increased amongst the Palestinian population, at the expense of Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the West Bank's Palestinian Authority, whom the west, and Israel, much prefer.
Israel's biggest strategic blunder, which also comes as the biggest irony, was the first act they did, that initiated Operation Pillar of Defence, the assassination of Ahmed Al Jabbari, the head of Hamas' military wing. Al Jabbari, had in fact been keen on establishing a long term ceasefire with Israel. On the very same day he was killed, he was in the midst of trying to reach a long term ceasefire with the Israelis and had already been given a draft ceasefire document. Not only had Jabbari been keen on establishing a long term ceasefire with Israel, he remained the strongman who had enforced previous ceasefires that were brokered by the Egyptians. Jabbari was essentially the man who had kept Palestinian militants in check, preventing them from firing their rockets towards Israel, and in some cases, he had even arrested militants for firing their rockets.
The Israeli leadership also displayed indecisiveness during this conflict, much like they did in 2006. While Israel continuously threatened a ground invasion, it never materialised. The Israeli leadership never seemed too sure whether to go through with a ground invasion or not. Even in the midst of threatening a ground invasion, Netanyahu was keen to stress that they were open to diplomacy, showing the Israeli leadership were in two minds about the issue, whether to continue with the operation and to escalate it, or to end the operation that they had initiated. Now from a militant's angle, the fact that Israel did not go ahead with the ground invasion will only serve to show that Israel doesn't have the stomach for major combat. That's how they will see things: Israel has only made itself seem weaker in the eyes of the militants by deciding not to go through with the ground invasion, let alone displaying it's own lack of clarity and decisiveness on what it wanted to do.
Israeli soldiers themselves have posed in a picture declaring Netanyahu as a loser due to the ceasefire, and I think their frustration sums it all up quite nicely.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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