Seeing Through the Dust
So, a cease fire has been announced, and the dust begins to settle. Both sides conduct their victory parades according to their specific cultural norms, while the real losers of the confrontation are still in mourning. Obsessive media and public discourse about the winners and losers of the confrontation tend to focus on the more close-to-eye (and heart) micro analysis. So before rushing to the closest parade, let’s make an unpopular attempt to analyze matters from a wider macro perspective.
If there is one winner in this conflict it is Mohammed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood, and president of Egypt. Willing to mediate between Hamas and Israel, Morsi showed himself to be unexpectedly, and relatively, moderate, both in action and in word. The U.S policy makers have identified his potential as leading a camp of Sunni forces (Hamas, Quatar, Saudi-Arabia + Turkey) to counter the Shi’ite forces in the region led by Iran (Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah).
Accepting the ceasefire agreement, Israel helped to strengthen this relatively moderate coalition, and at the same time dealt Iran a blow by diminishing Islamic Jihad’s role and influence. Once again aligning itself with U.S policy, Israel also guaranteed American continued backing and support in upcoming confrontations (i.e., Iran).
New Middle East
Conditions and circumstances in this region are extremely fragile and ever-changing. In such an environment, Israel did well to support its only remaining anchors of stability (for now) – the two peace accords with Jordan and Egypt.
If Israel had opted for a land invasion into Gaza, the leaders of these two countries, already dealing with a growing amount of disquiet and internal strife as a side-effect of the Arab Spring, would have been pushed into a corner: on the one hand trying to placate the “man on the street”, while on the other hand trying to secure funding and support from the West by aligning with American (and Israeli) interests.
Perhaps due to a lack of experience, Egypt condemned Israel and called her ambassador back early on in the crisis, leaving its diplomatic toolkit empty. The next step could have been a cancellation of the peace treaty with Israel or even sending its military into Sinai. Either way, Israel did well to avert these possibilities by accepting the Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement.
At Ground Level
There is little doubt Hamas came out relatively strengthened from this confrontation. The question is whether this is good for Israel or not. As the incident on the border with Gaza over the weekend proved, a strong Hamas in control over Gaza is an Israeli interest, especially if you take into consideration the alternatives. An invasion into Gaza intended at toppling Hamas could have resulted in a power vacuum filled eventually by Iran-backed factors. Better the devil you know…
On a more tactical level, Israel delivered the Hamas a serious blow, one that will resonate for a while, though probably not guaranteeing long-term peace and quiet.
Drawing from its priceless “bank of targets”, Israel managed to masterfully destroy Hamas’ highest ranking “officer”, and most of the long-range rockets that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had stowed away for a rainy day. Although some of the remaining long-range rockets were launched in the consecutive days at Tel-Aviv and even Jerusalem, this had the adverse result of exposing this strategic threat as being less severe than initially perceived. Whether you decide to give Israeli decision makers the credit for this move or not, the fact is that next time a military operation in Gaza is in the making, the threat of rockets landing in Tel Aviv will not be a consideration.
My advice then, is to stay away from the victory parades in the streets of Gaza, and think big.
I’ll end with Karl Von Clausewitz: