Was Israel victorious in this summer’s Gaza war? It depends on whom you ask

In two rounds of fighting with Hamas, Israel’s leaders mistakenly thought they had discouraged the group from resuming attacks against Israel, and each time they turned out to be wrong.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

Was Israel victorious in Operation Protective Edge? It depends on whom you ask.

The trio of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who appeared on Israeli television the night the cease-fire was announced, did their level best to convince the public that Israel had scored a victory in the 50-day campaign against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. That the terrorists who had rocketed Israel’s cities, sent millions of citizens to run for cover, and at one point succeeded to close down Ben-Gurion airport, had been soundly beaten. That once they crept out of their underground lairs and saw the destruction the Israel Air Force had visited on the area under their control, they would realize that it made no sense to come back for more of the same.

It may be that many Israelis believed what they were told by their leadership, that others wanted to believe it, considering the heavy price the soldiers of the IDF had paid – but is that really what, in the final analysis, determines the outcome of this bloody war? How do Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and the Palestinian population in Gaza, Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem view the result of the confrontation between 15,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters and the IDF, its tanks and infantry, its air force and navy?

One is reminded of the jubilation in Israel that greeted the unilateral IDF withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon in May 2000, to be immediately followed by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s “victory” speech in Bint Jbeil, in which he likened Israel to a spider web which can be torn apart with ease. It was a perception that saw in the IDF’s withdrawal a victory for Hezbollah, and proof that Israel with all its tanks and aircraft can be defeated. It is this perception that brought on the Second Lebanon War six years later.

The view of many in Israel’s security establishment is that it was the perception of Hezbollah’s “victory” over the IDF in Lebanon that brought on the second intifada four months after the withdrawal from southern Lebanon, which resulted in over 1,000 Israeli casualties over a two-year period.

Frequently, it is the perception of the other side that determines the continuation of events. Thus, it was the perception that Israel was defeated by Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War that led to the accumulation of tens of thousands of rockets by Hezbollah in Lebanon and by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Rockets aimed at Israel’s civilian population, that are meant to be launched sooner or later.

In two rounds of fighting with Hamas – Operations Cast Lead and Defensive Shield – Israel’s leaders thought each time that they were successful in discouraging Hamas from resuming attacks against Israel, and each time they turned out to be wrong. Their perception did not match the perception of the Hamas leadership.

Are they wrong again after Operation Protective Edge? Time will tell, although it is already clear that disarming is the farthest thing from the minds of the Hamas leadership and much of the money that will now be poured into the Strip will be diverted to rearming Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

It is likely that the perception that the IDF was unsuccessful in defeating Hamas in Gaza has contributed to the recent violence in Jerusalem. No doubt that the Palestinian population there has suffered from neglect over the years by the Jerusalem Municipality and the government – a neglect which sowed the seeds for violent protests. And there was a gradual escalation of rioting which started with the murder this summer of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and continued as the number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza mounted, inflamed by calls to violence by Hamas and the northern branch of the Israeli Islamic movement.

But the seeming inability of the IDF to subdue the 15,000 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters in the Strip during Operation Protective Edge has surely played a role in the continuing escalation of Palestinian rioting in Jerusalem. So who won in the recent Gaza conflict?

The fact is that during the past eight years – during the Second Lebanon War, and in three military operations in the Gaza Strip – the IDF, despite its vast superiority in numbers and weapons, was unsuccessful in defeating its opponents. Is it any wonder that they perceive Israel as having been defeated, and that the ground is prepared for further attacks on Israel?

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