Last night’s ceasefire is a strategic failure for Israel. While the end of military action must be welcomed, it is hard to see what Netanyahu has achieved beyond the killing of Ahmed Jabari. Despite a week of tit-for-tat missile fire, Israel secured none of its strategic objectives. In fact, in many cases it actually strengthened Hamas and diminished Israel’s security. Here’s some of the ways in which Israel has been weakened by Operation Pillar of Defence:
1) Hamas was able to break the psychological barrier of attacking Tel Aviv. No one has fired missiles at the city since 1991 when Saddam Hussein tried to undermine coalition forces in Operation Desert Storm. In the interim Israel threatened that any further attacks on Tel Aviv would necessitate a strong and overwhelming military response. In the event, Hamas shot at Tel Aviv and Israel failed to respond; this will have encouraged the Iranians.
2) Hamas is claiming it ‘defeated’ Israeli forces in the latest confrontation, strengthening its position among jihadists and emboldening their hostility towards Israel. Indeed, Ismail Haniyeh has already boasted that Hamas made Israel ‘scream with pain’ and thanked the Iranians for supplying them with weapons and money. The situation has also granted Hamas leverage over Abu Mazen who is left even weaker and more irrelevant than he was before the confrontation.
3) Once Israel initiated Operation Pillar of Defence, a wave of Arab leaders rushed to visit Gaza, giving Hamas wider recognition and legitimacy among its neighbours. The whole process has meant more regimes are now dealing with the Hamas administration than before.
4) Mohammed Morsi can claim lots of credit within the international community for helping to broker the ceasefire. Inadvertently, Netanyahu has helped strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood administration in Cairo who can now boast of being able to ‘deliver’ stability in the Middle East. None of this will have harmed Morsi’s reputation in Washington, particularly among those who argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is paring down its more radical views.
Public opinion in Israel is highly critical of Netanyahu, and his administration is badly bruised by the events of the last week. An Israeli friend told me that while it can seem like the current situation is best for both parties, when one considers the dynamics at play – that Hamas is an internationally designated terrorist group – then even though the playing field is level, that represents a loss for Israel.