Israel and Hamas break each other’s bones, but who will cry first?

As I was writing this article, the war in Gaza had escalated into a war of bone breaking between Hamas and its Palestinian allies on one hand and Israel on another. War is no longer an Israeli walk in the park in which jets roam Gaza and turn its people’s lives into hell by killing them, destroying their houses and intimidating them into continuously fleeing their homes to take refuge inside cramped schools. We can imagine this fear, panic and grief as more people die and get injured. Now that the Israeli army launched its ground assault on Gaza, Israeli souls have come closer to the Palestinian fire. The number of Israelis killed was no more than two when the war began. By the time I wrote this article, it reached 33. It’s true that the number of Palestinians killed is more than 1,000 and that the number of those injured has reached into thousands but all this has a price now.

The price Israel is paying does not just include the fall of tens of its soldiers but it also includes the suspension of flights to Ben-Gurion airport. Israel now knows the meaning of war, perhaps not as much as Palestinians do. But Palestinian blood no longer comes at a price it seems. The war is still in its first phase because both parties are no longer capable of accepting a ceasefire since this would mean losing the entire war.

When Israel’s aim is to search for and destroy tunnels and arms’ factories, its troops must enter the Strips’ streets, allies and camps. In these narrow allies, fighters are all equal

Abdel Monem Said

Regardless of the path which led Palestinians and Israelis towards this war, it began with a series of surprises. The first one is on the Israeli level as the Iron Dome’s efficiency in protecting major Israeli cities has been revealed. At one point, it seemed like Israel could co-exist with danger. However, domestic pressures quickly forced the Israeli government to deal with this state of fear which affected life in Israel. A series of Palestinian surprises also surfaced. It began with the intensity of Palestinian missiles which suggested that they have a large stockpile that, in my mind, could not have been collected through smuggling operations.

In my view, this must mean that the Palestinians have been making these missiles. Although these missiles may be homemade and their navigation systems may be inaccurate, they did reach certain areas. No matter how random the shelling is, the narrowness of Israeli space means that these missiles will reach some sort of target. The other surprise is that these Palestinian missiles reached unexpected ranges. As we say in Egypt, “the bullet that doesn’t harm, intimidates.” The third surprise is the emergence of Palestinians inside Israel itself via a network of tunnels which Israel and its intelligence apparatuses knew nothing about, it seems.

Israeli decision making circles

Put these Palestinian surprises together and take a look at the conclusion Israeli decision making circles have reached. They reached the conclusion that there’s a lot they don’t know inside, and under, Gaza, I believe. Therefore it will be impossible to devise and understand calculations of power in the area. This, I believe, is what led the government towards the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The issue has become an Israeli surprise in which Israel takes a decision which it knows well will change the nature of the strategic relationship between itself and Gaza. The nature of war before the invasion was based on uneven relations of power. Israel could shell the Strip with little material losses, but with huge dents to morale. The ground invasion and the entrance of Israeli troops into the Strip morphed this uneven or unbalanced war. When Israel’s aim is to search for and destroy tunnels and arms’ factories, its troops must enter the Strips’ streets, allies and camps. In these narrow allies, fighters are all equal.

So, both parties are in a dilemma. Israel, which entered the war perhaps thinking it would be a walk in the park, found itself to be confronting a bigger danger as well as the threats of missiles, many of which have been neutralized thanks to the Iron Dome.

Despite that, these missiles have unexpected effects. These missiles, in addition to tunnels, have faced the Israeli population with a grave threat. I don’t think Israel has a plan to deal with this crisis because now, it cannot stay inside Gaza and bear continuous and escalating operations against it. The Israeli government will face pressure to attain a victory similar to what it attained following the ground invasion of South Lebanon. Meanwhile, Hamas is also in a dilemma as it seems to have decided it won the war since it launched its first set of missiles and of course after capturing an Israeli soldier. Now that the number of dead Israelis has reached into the dozens, the banners of victory scream out loud regardless of the situation in Gaza. Hamas cannot reach this level of victory (review Khalid Mashal’s speech on Wednesday) and then allow the situation in destroyed Gaza to return to how it was. The Palestinian aim now must be to lift the siege of Gaza and open all borders around it. This aim could have been achieved if these border crossings had been handed over to the Palestinian authority but it seems as though Hamas wants the border crossings and the tunnels under its complete control.

Demanding more than they can achieve

The result is that both parties are demanding more than they can achieve. Israel and Hamas would have to break each other’s’ bones until one of them cries out.

Israel’s problem, in my view, is that it cannot achieve what it wants until it reoccupies Gaza. This is a nightmare the Israelis no longer desire, I feel. There’s also nothing that makes this a viable solution to the Israeli crisis. Hamas’ problem is that the long duration of war will not only increase Palestinian sacrifices but will also lead to questions over the Palestinians aims achieved regarding liberation, independence, the return of refugees to the land of Palestine and a sovereign state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.

Does the situation seem impossible? The world does not think so, at least up until the time I wrote this article. International and regional efforts are still active. There are initiatives and counter initiatives and both parties may suddenly realize that one of these initiatives is enough to send them back to the stance they held before the fighting. If this fails, then perhaps I will have to write another article about the new Gaza war.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 30, 2014.

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Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.

 

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