Sunday, February 01, 2009

Hamas' Gains in the 2008 War with Israel

Enemies of the United States will never have as generous a gift as George W. Bush again. If it wasn't for the innocent people who would die, I would wish Bush could run again, and I'd campaign for his brother to eventually run, just in hopes that that guy could be as damaging to US interests as Bush II was.

Israel also has surprisingly poor leadership for a country as prominent as it is. One would expect a tiny country, that chooses its leadership from its population of 6 million or so Jews to fail to consistently find and promote leaders of the talent of Putin, Erdogan or Jintao, who were the winners of much larger political competitions, but Israel needs leaders of that caliber, especially if it cannot be carried by the United States.

But this last war was very bad for Israel for two different reasons. 1- Israel's inability to capture and hold contested land has been reaffirmed and 2 - Israel's moral image has tarnished to a degree far greater than Hamas could have hoped for.

First, there can be no argument that Hamas believes it gained more than it lost because it continues to fire rockets into Israel - in effect daring Israel, right now, to do it again. I find this a stunning development. Possibly Israel's leaders have learned that they did not gain from the previous attack - or more interestingly, possibly the Obama administration is refusing to give promise the amount of support Bush offered. One way or another, Israel seems reluctant to begin another 20 day bombing and invasion campaign. These, I believe, are the reasons why:

Israel's Inability to Hold Enemy Land

2006 proved that Israel is not able to hold Hezbollah territory. But Hamas is far more poorly equipped, manned and dug in than Hezbollah. Hamas never attacked IDF forces, but at least could claim that it was waiting to see how far Israel advanced, attacking on the most favorable terms it could get once the full extent of the invasion was in view. Would Hamas have been able to inflict the damage Hezbollah inflicted? A 1 to 1 fatality rate for soldiers? Of course not, but how much worse would it have done? Israel decided that we are never going to find out, and suddenly pulled completely out of Gaza before the Obama inauguration. Some people in Gaza City, Damascus and Tehran had to be asking, "are these guys serious? I thought this was an invasion." If Israel doesn't think it can hold a zone in Gaza at acceptable cost there's nobody to argue that it can. But exposing this inability with respect to Gaza, which has been under siege for two years is a very poor showing.

What this means is that even if Sadat was right that Egypt could not militarily retake the Sinai, it is possible now for Israel's neighbors to hold territory without Israeli or American cooperation. Will Egypt tomorrow go to Iran and ask for help fortifying its border with Israel to make its territory impervious to Israeli invasion? No. But the option is there now, and will be there from now of for future Egyptian leaderships as they decide what stance to take with respect to Israel.

This is similar to the result of the 2006 Lebanon war. Israel intervened in Jordan to protect a friendly government in the 1970s. But was unwilling or unable to do the same to prevent Hezbollah's demonstrations in Beirut which led to Hezbollah's entrance into Lebanon's government. Israel now is shown unable to even intervene militarily to protect a friendly government in Gaza. The strategic calculus of the region will now take this into account. Israel can bomb civilians, at a high moral cost, but other than that does not have a military option any more. This is a major development.

Going off track for a moment, during the Lebanon demonstrations, Nasrallah said of Saniora:
"If we wanted to stage a coup, you would have woken up this morning in prison, or in the middle of the sea."
Saniora, overseas at the time, got the fairly elegantly delivered threat and told his Western handlers while in Qatar that he is not going back to Lebanon unless Hezbollah is satisfied with an agreement. The point is that Israel just had to watch. Its only option would have been to bomb some power plants or nurseries which leads to the second issue.

The Tarnish in the West of Israel's Moral Position

Israel has never come under moral attack in the West as it did earlier this year. During the 2006 war, it was widely accepted as a position in the West that while opposition to specific actions of the Israeli government are acceptable, opposition to the existence of a Jewish state is inherently anti-Semitic and therefore immoral. While not unanimous, this was the consensus view of the United States educated class, among those interested enough to have formed an opinion.

The acceptance of the position that it is anti-Semitic to oppose a Jewish state was eroding before Israel's bombing began, but it died sometime during the campaign.

On January 8, Time magazine ran a pretty standard article expressing the difficulty of Israel remaining a Jewish state over the long term.

But by January 21, the New York Times ran an article by Muammar Qaddafi advocating a one-state solution where Jews would not have a majority. This has been Qaddafi's preferred solution for a long time, as well as Tehran's, but I had never seen it presented, by an advocate, in a major US media outlet.

Advocates for Zionism routinely describe this goal of most of the supposedly radical parties in the Middle East as the "destruction of Israel." Until this war, advocates of this goal have never been able to present their view to casual US readers.

Then by January 25, CBS News presented a one state non-Jewish situation as Israel's only alternative to ethnic cleansing or apartheid.
Demographers predict that within ten years Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank, or they could give the Palestinians the vote. That would be the democratic option but it would mean the end of the Jewish state. Or they could try apartheid - have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians, but apartheid regimes don't have a very long life.
The United States still supports Israel, though the Democratic party has begun to diverge from the Republican party on this issue. But bombing civilians, which is the last remaining capability of the IDF, is reaching the point where it damages Israel's prospects more than it helps, even looking only at the United States, to say nothing of, for example, Turkey.

Hamas is now acting as if it has nothing to fear from another Israeli bombing campaign. The December 2008 campaign may be the event that made Hamas right.

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