The Gaza Strip has once again become inflamed as Israel and the Hamas militia ruling the strip have once again escalated clashes. Civilians have been maimed and killed on both sides.
The Israeli mission designation for this latest military campaign 'Pillar of Cloud' (changed to 'Pillar of Defense' for western consumption) invokes imaginary from the Torah's Book of Exodus
and indeed mildly replicates events in that book, particularly the salient mid-air interception of projectiles being fired at Israel from its south. Biblical allusions aside with the implementation of a ceasefire we can now assess whether or not it was victory for the Israeli's militarily or morally by looking at a variety of factors. Militarily Israel can assess the extent to which they have pummeled Hamas' forces, see if they have been rendered inept and reassess with the intelligence they have Hamas' military capabilities as they exist at present. Morally, Israel can evaluate how its forces conducted itself throughout the campaign, how civilian casualties were incurred and the extent to which they solely focused their firepower to eliminating what were clear threats to its defence and security.
That's if this operation does end with Hamas left in power. While Israeli reservists have being called up and readied for a seven week long war against the Islamist militia it is unclear at the time of writing whether it has been decided in Jerusalem whether or not the IDF is prepared to actually move into Gaza and completely dig the Hamas forces out. Israel has made it clear that whilst air-power can hamper the militias ability to strike terror into the hearts of Israelis with rockets, it cannot completely destroy and dismember said militia. This has been proven the last time around in Gaza, and the war before that against the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
So what is Israel's long term strategy with Hamas? A continuous arms blockade against Gaza to try and stop Hamas from obtaining arms and rockets? Shaky ceasefires that can breakdown and lead to an escalation of conflict within a matter of hours?
Such strategies have been implemented since 2009 and haven't mitigated the threat of war. So that brings into question the degree to which intervention and 'regime change' is a necessity on the part of the Israelis. Is Israel capable of carrying out such an operation, would its outcome be worth the casualties that it may have to incur to fulfil the mission objectives of such an on the ground intervention? Quite obviously these are questions that the Israeli government, military and public have to ask themselves.
With regard to the broad overview this campaign represents merely another episode in the history of this long, bitter and sordid conflict. Whilst the bombardment has so far achieved some short term tactical benefits such as the mitigation of the threat posed by Hamas' rocket capabilities it has once again brought a light to the much bigger problem that exists in Gaza. Having cemented themselves into a position of power the Hamas remain the primary obstacle to peace and conciliation between the respective Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
It is important to go back over the history of the conflict to get an idea of where we are and how we got here. It is true that Israel tolerated, and to an extent supported, Hamas
as a counterweight to Fatah and the PLO in the 1980's. This was back before that group turned from an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to a radical Islamist militia bent on Israel's destruction and the installation in its place of a strict Sunni Islamic caliphate.
It was in 1994 that the group began its reign of terror that was hellbent on disrupting and destroying the Oslo Accords. Through terrorist attacks it sought Israeli retaliatory strikes on Palestinian neighbourhoods putting innocents in the line of fire. Many families and loved ones were killed, and Hamas ratcheted up the blame on the Israelis for all the Palestinian peoples grievances. Sowing hatred and despair across several communities and undermining and actively seeking the destruction of any peace or concordance with Israel.
Today Hamas fighters use Gaza as a launchpad to fire rockets at Israeli civil centers. These same fighters then use Gaza's densely populated street scene to seek refuge from Israeli counter attacks, ensuring that more civilians than fighters will be killed in any Israeli attack, and act to add further to the grievances of many Palestinian families whose loved ones may be caught in the crossfire of such an exchange. Exchanges of which were characteristics of this current round of fighting and its Cast Lead predecessor.
Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad in a manner similar to Hamas sought, in the mid-1990's, to terrorize the Israeli public in hopes of having them discard their peaceful intentions and instead return to more confrontational ones with their enemies. This resulted in Shimon Peres losing the 1996 elections to Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu. Peres had attempted to weaken Hezbollah through an extensive campaign against Lebanon known as 'Grapes of Wrath', but this failed to yield any decisive breakthrough in crippling the Shia militia. Netanyahu's party came to power and was committed to ensuring that no Palestinian state would be established along Israel's borders whilst Israel faced such terrorist threats, as in his eyes such a state would quickly devolve into a PLO terrorist haven.
The PLO had previously established such a haven in the form of their 'state within a state' in South Lebanon after they were kicked out of Jordan in 1970 in an event we know in history as 'Black September'. This 'state within a state' was were they set up camp and launched incursions into the Galilee region and launched rockets at Israeli towns and villages, terrorizing Israeli civilians. When Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his defence minister Ariel Sharon decided to root them out, they were supported by the Shia of south Lebanon, who were sick of the PLO launching terrorist attacks from their territories and trying to use the indigenous civilian population as deterrents against Israeli counterattacks.
In rooting out the problem Israel sent 30,000 troops into Lebanon after tensions between the Jewish state of the PLO boiled over after the latter attempted to assassinate the formers ambassador to Britain. Israel made considerable headway clearing the area south of the Litani River of Palestinian guerillas. Yasser Arafat and his PLO would, as par agreement, leave Lebanon to be hosted in Tunisia after the Israelis chased them to Beirut. Not long afterwards however Iran dispatched Revolutionary Guard fighters that established a small guerilla organization called 'Hezbollah' that aimed to drive Israeli forces out of Lebanon.
Israel did retreat from Beirut and maintained a small strip of Lebanese territory for stated purposes of defence. But it continued to engage Hezbollah in clashes in Lebanon until 2000 when a ceasefire was brokered between the two sides. Hezbollah since then through the support of the Assad regime in Syria and the Iranian regime in Tehran amassed a vast arsenal of missiles which it put to use in 2006 when it once again clashed with Israel after it kidnapped two of that country's soldiers and killed several others in an ambush.
Israel attempted to destroy the militia through a series of air strikes against its infrastructure after that pre-emptive attack against its forces. It succeeded in destroying a large stockpile of the militia's rockets in the first few hours of the war, which saw to a premature victory being declared. However the war would go on for three weeks with several thousand rockets being fired at Israel's northern towns and cities and Israeli strikes against Hezbollah sites across Lebanon.
Whilst Israel did succeed in taking out several of the movements fighters along with its weapons Hezbollah has since then amassed an arsenal of rockets that is estimated to be twice the size of what it possessed prior to that war. The organization was also able to save face by merely surviving the war and also poured a substantial amount of the funds it receives from the aforementioned regimes to repair damage done to the south of the country during the war and further solidify their support among the Shia communities there. After 30 years of on-and-off conflict in Lebanon since 1982 Israel is faced with a missile threat that is probably much more dangerous and far-reaching than the one it faced in 1982 when it initially launched an invasion to alleviate.
On the southern front, Israel's latest operation in Gaza was carried out far more effectively than the previous Cast Lead operation of late 2008 and early 2009. Casualties among the Palestinian population are much smaller, as the IDF has, to its credit, ensured that it only struck targets that wouldn't incur civilian casualties. Casualties were approximately 30-50 of whom were killed in the space of 1,450 strikes against Hamas positions.
Nevertheless Gaza is still in a sorry state, and Hamas is still ruling. Palestinian terrorists have also shown their ability to strike right at the heart of Israel 'proper' by detonating explosives on a bus in Tel Aviv and wounding 21 Israelis. It was a heinous act of terrorism on a bus full of Israelis that ultimately led to Israel's aforementioned embroilment in Lebanon
and to a series of wars and conflicts that have cost many thousands of lives. So with past crises and dashed hopes for peace, one ponders what is anything different this time around.
Sadly there aren't many reasons to be optimistic. Vast changes have taken past in the past two years across the highly volatile region. The geopolitical implications of the revolutions and wars on Israel's frontiers for the region are interesting case study's in of themselves. The fall of Mubarak in Egypt and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood for example is something that has raised concern in Israel. The manner in which the current ceasefire is being brokered in Cairo indicates Egypt's resurgent rise as an important political player in the Arab world. This is interesting as Egypt still gets quite a bit of aid money from the United States each year. Given the current ruling party in Egypt's relationship with Hamas the United States may be able to diplomatically influence Cairo to in turn influence Hamas to abide by a criteria of agreements to bring about more tenable ceasefires with Israel. This may even see to the easing of the blockade (probably from the Egyptian side of the border) if Hamas does agree to in good faith cooperate. One may be too optimistic to see such a prospect come into fruition, but it does definitely have potential.
Israeli stipulations for a ceasefire in fact pretty much cover all of this
, they state the following:
1. No violence for a period of more than 15 years.
2. No smuggling or transfer of arms to Gaza.
3. End of all rocket fire and attacks on Israeli soldiers.
4. Israel reserves the right to attack terrorists in case of an attack or of a potential attack.
5. Israeli-Gaza crossings will remain closed (although Gaza-Egypt crossings may remain open)
6. Egypt's politicians must guarantee the above demands.
Hamas had on a previous occasion made similar proposals, of questionable sincerity and value
, to bring about a ten year truce in return for a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In the meantime Hamas still retains power in Gaza. One presumes the Israeli military possesses a considerably detailed contingency plan that will see to the Israeli Army launch a ground invasion to directly root out and eliminate the Hamas leadership and disperse and dismantle the organizations militia. However the risk of casualties for any such intervention into the densely populated strip would be pretty high on the Israeli side and public opinion is essentially against a campaign. To what degree the Israelis would be able to implement regime change is questionable, as the war could quickly devolve into a bloody quagmire for the IDF, and serve to further radicalize younger sectors of the strips population and breed a whole new generation of brainwashed and radicalized Islamist terrorists. So it goes without saying that we can safely assume such a plan is being shelved.
I'm sure you've seen the rather disgusting video of Hamas militants pulling live Palestinians tied to motorcycles through the streets. I'm also sure you can only imagine like me what kind of horrible things they're probably doing behind closed doors to people they “suspect” of collaborating in some manner with the Israelis. A great way for an authoritarian state to crush any opponents during the fog of war is to accuse them of collaborating with the enemy and then eliminate them. Hamas will continue to use this old rule of thumb of tyrannical regimes to hold onto power. It will also more than likely continue to stultify children by teaching old anti-Semitic texts such as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
as historical fact to impressionable school children. The Israelis will continue to be blamed for all the ills – both perceived and tangibly real – of the Gazan people, anyone dissenting from the party line and criticizing Hamas rules and policies, well, they've seen what happened to other Palestinians Hamas deemed to be “collaborators” and know the risks they will be taking.
Nevertheless criticism of such human rights abuses among a hefty amount of political circles in the west will likely be ignored in favour of facile moral equivalences that equate Israel to apartheid South Africa, or Nazi Germany. As will the actions of these various terrorist factions be excused as a simple result of despair resulting from dispossession. Hence the targeting and bombing of a bus full of civilians is in no way different than civilian casualties incurred during the targeting of a militant on the part of the Israelis. Rest assured reader, the Palestinian terrorists will have countless excuses made for their savage actions by distant observers for the foreseeable future.
When one takes into account the vast amount of suffering that both sides have endured already and the fact that conflicts between Israel and the Hezbollah militants to its north and the Hamas ones to its south one wonders how Israel will be able to mitigate the threats it faces and replace them with a relatively doable peace initiative. Regime change in Gaza is a question I've already posed, but the history of such interventions (the aforementioned Lebanon intervention being the most salient) show that just about anything could happen. As could anything happen if the current situation in Gaza is allowed to continue the way it is going. Will the blockade continue while Hamas will continue to use its resources to try an acquire more weaponry as they did between now and the last war? Is this ceasefire just the cessation of hostilities for the time being and a recess period before another war is eventually going to break out?
Actively eliminating Hamas as an organization is probably little more than a pipe dream. While some to the right of the political spectrum may argue that Israel shouldn't have pulled out of Gaza in 2005 to begin with even the more hawkish supporters of Israel would rather see in retrospect an investment into Gaza that could see the strip develop and prosper as a peaceful society. This could have also served as a blueprint for what many of us want to see, a future workable independent emancipated Palestinian state. Which would in turn be a worthy investment for Israel's future too, as the formation of such a state would see a government implement a constitution declaring national sovereign borders and the outlaw of militias threatening and actively trying to destroy its neighbor.
The alternative, the path they're continuing to go down is seeing to the formation of another generation of Gazans that are being radicalized, impoverished and denied a normal life, and taught, literally from birth, that this is all solely the fault of the Israelis, and that they should in accordance with these flawed beliefs strive to avenge their fathers and their fathers-fathers. Such a sectarian organization with such sectarian beliefs and mantras is hardly one that a lasting peace accord could be made with since it has continued to pronounce and actively prove time and again that peace and compromise is something that it will never accept. They'd rather the Palestinians of Gaza wallow in their own misery and impoverished state than to rise out of it and make something for themselves. Such a society that has a future, that has hope and something to lose will be hesitant about losing that something by allowing the miscreants of society to throw it all away over a pathological creed.
Israel may be faced with a choice between neither continuing on the present course, which they will be well capable of doing, hence facing continuous outbreaks of war with Hamas and only temporary, and volatile by nature, intermittent ceasefires and truces. Or, Israel can offer a proverbial carrot, hence an agreement for the reduction of Hamas to a political party rather than a militia in return for the lifting of the embargo and an economic stimulation of the territory with international oversight. The poorly organized 2006 election between two questionable parties show that the Palestinians never had a fair try at democracy, and the fact that there hasn't been any elections since then shows how Hamas won't simply settle for vindicating their beliefs through open debate with their political opponents.
One may question what right Israel has to hold carrots and sticks over Gaza, especially when it maintains an embargo on that territory. Well Israel's security depends on how things go in Gaza and it has to that extent a right to try and influence events on the ground there in order to secure its own borders and ensure the safety of its own civilians. Therefore the creation of a multiparty constitutional state would be in Israel's interest, as would the mitigation of the radicalization and stultification of Gaza's children have its own strategic benefits, since it would serve to prevent the fostering of more terrorists that will strive to fulfill their deluded creeds by killing Israelis.
I only briefly touched and surmised on some bloody past episodes of this bitter conflict, and painted only a partial picture of how dire the future looks. But we must look for prospects, recognize that these are changing times in the Middle East, as well as changing times in general. A change in the zeitgeist may soon indicate that we potentially have a generation of Palestinians that is ready to repudiate the fate Hamas has set in place for them and instead will, if presented with a chance for a better life, sue for peace and a strong potential for a prosperous future. We shouldn't underestimate the power that the self-determination of the masses of ordinary people has to change things, and if played right in this case one believes that the masses may be able to change things for the better.