The goal of Iran and its Islamist proxies is not a Palestinian state; it is the elimination of Israel
The temptation to declare which side won in Operation Guardian of the Walls must be resisted for two reasons. The first is that a great deal depends on the aftermath. At the conclusion of the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the war was generally judged to be Israel's greatest ever military failure, and a national commission of inquiry was appointed to investigate that failure. The war ended prime minister Ehud Olmert's political career, even before he went to jail on corruption charges.
For a month, residents of Israel's north either lived underground or fled southward to live with relatives or even complete strangers. And on the last day of the conflict, Hezbollah was still able to fire as many missiles as it had throughout the fighting. Worse still, Hezbollah's fighters pretty much fought Israeli troops to a standstill for an entire month, and killed over 33 Israeli soldiers in the last two days of combat, in what former chief of staff Boogie Yaalon labeled a "spin operation."
Yet in retrospect, it appears that the heavy Israeli bombing, including of the major electrical generator in Beirut, exacted a high enough price that Hezbollah has not fired any comparable fusillades over the past 16 years. The aerial damage also generated significant hostility to Hezbollah among the Lebanese population, which is not something that the terror group had counted on and of which it remains mindful.
The second difficulty in assessing winners and losers is that the two sides do not play according to the same scorecards. The civilian casualties suffered by Gazans would have been viewed as a catastrophe by Israel. But for Hamas, dead civilians are an asset — the key to their strategy of delegitimizing Israel and whipping up anti-Semitic hatred around the globe. No matter how many times Colonel Richard Kemp informs the world that "Israel does more to minimize civilian casualties than any country in the history of warfare," all Hamas has to do is display a few dead women and children and all that is negated.
At one level, Hamas definitely secured a "victory" as soon as it directed seven rockets at Jerusalem — a victory over its rival, the Palestinian Authority, for dominance of the Palestinian street. With that rocket launch, Hamas established itself as the true "defender" of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Despite calls in the PA media for one and all to elevate the level of confrontation with Israel and to purchase knives to cut the throats of Jews, the PA lacks the power to damage Israel and to send Israelis scurrying for shelter that Hamas possesses.
UNQUESTIONABLY, Israel demonstrated impressive military capabilities, and perhaps, even more important, very good intelligence about Hamas operations. The latter must be extremely unnerving to Hamas. Thus Israel was able to eliminate many senior Hamas commanders, with relatively little civilian damage. And those who were not killed were likely to have had their luxury homes and vacation spas reduced to rubble. In short, they paid an immediate price, and they know that Israel knows where they are. Nor were the villas of Hamas's political leadership spared.
Israel greatly degraded Hamas's war-making capacity — at least in the short run. In any fighting on the ground in Gaza, Hamas's greatest asset is the intricate labyrinth of underground tunnels it has laboriously built. An estimated one-third of those tunnels were destroyed, and it will take years and billions of dollars to reconstruct them. Nor is it clear how the people of Gaza will react if Hamas once again diverts most humanitarian aid to tunnel construction, especially now that it is clear that years of work can be wiped out in a few hours of bombing.
It also appears that Hamas's major weapons development and manufacturing facilities were largely destroyed, as were their unmanned submarines and drones and UAVs. Twenty teams operating ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) were identified and eliminated.
The one area in which Israel did not have great success was in destroying rocket and rocket launchers. Hamas succeeded in firing 4,300 rockets, though over 600 of those were estimated to have struck Gaza itself. And it was able to fire as many rockets in 11 days as it did in 50 days in 2014, and to strike targets in the center of the country.
Significantly, however, it was Hamas that sued for a cease-fire. And Israel's operations did not stop until it ran out of important targets to strike from the air.
THE ELEVEN DAYS OF FIGHTING was not just between Israel and Hamas, but also a proxy war between Israel and Iran, of which Hamas is a subsidiary. It remains to be seen how Iran will evaluate the Israeli response, and what it might say about a subsequent confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah, which stayed out of the latest fighting almost entirely. (Hezbollah is even more of a fully owned subsidiary of Iran than is Hamas.)
It is impossible to extrapolate from Hamas to Hezbollah. The latter is estimated to possess an arsenal of at least 130,000 missiles, many of them precision-guided missiles. In comparison, Hamas's arsenal at the beginning of Operation Guardian of the Walls numbered no more than 15,000 rockets. Hezbollah's capacity to overwhelm Israel's Iron Dome is thus an order of magnitude greater.
In a war with Hezbollah, Israel could not operate with the same surgical precision that it did against Hamas. Hezbollah has placed its missiles in private homes and civilian areas all over southern Lebanon, and the Israeli Air Force would have no choice but to take out Hezbollah's launchers as quickly as possible, regardless of civilian casualties, and to strike hard at Lebanon's infrastructure. (Hezbollah effectively controls the Lebanese government.)
THE CLEAREST TRIUMPH for Hamas was its success in inciting Israeli Arabs to attack their neighbors in mixed Arab and Jewish cities. In Lod, for instance, shuls and schools were fire-bombed. Jews who fled their homes had them quickly ransacked by their former neighbors.
In a clip that went viral, the deputy mayor of Lod related how the seat in which his son sat in Talmud Torah was hit by a Molotov cocktail. "What am I supposed to tell my son?" he said plaintively. "Your father can't protect you, the police can't protect you, the State of Israel can't protect you. Who would want to live here?"
Professor Hillel Frisch of the Begin-Sadat Center writes that the first priority of the Israeli government in the wake of the fighting is to confiscate tens of thousands of guns and other weapons in the hands of criminal gangs in Arab towns and mixed Arab-Jewish cities. That is easier said than done, and almost certainly beyond the capabilities of the Israeli police alone. But if it is not done, in the next eruption of fighting, the Arab-Jewish cities and major transportation routes near Arab towns are almost sure to become major battlegrounds.
Those gangs played a major role in the recent rioting. Already in the Galilee, no construction project can go forward without paying protection money to the Arab gangs, and the situation in the Negev is, in many respects, worse.
HAMAS LEADER Ismail Haniyeh boasted that Hamas had succeeded in destroying dreams of peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews. At least with respect to Arab-Jewish cities, that may be true. Just as in marriage, trust once destroyed is not easily restored. That does not appear to be true, however, with respect to the Arab countries that signed the Abraham Accords. They offered only the most pro forma criticism of Israel's defensive actions.
Iran, as part of its long-term strategy of encirclement of Israel by proxies bent on its destruction, seeks to break down the current divisions between Palestinians in the West Bank, those in Gaza, Arab residents of Jerusalem, and Arab citizens of Israel. Driving a stake into the heart of Arab-Jewish coexistence is part of that strategy.
The goal of Iran and its Islamist proxies is not a Palestinian state; it is the elimination of Israel. As senior Hamas politician Mahmoud al-Zahar told the BBC clearly, "Israel has no right to exist." And a Palestinian state is not the goal: "Islamic views reject the notion of establishing an independent Palestinian state. In the past, there was no independent Palestinian state. This is holy land, not the property of the Palestinians.... This land is property of all Muslims."
And that is why the creation of a Palestinian state is not just an intractable problem, but an insoluble one: Any such state would only become a launching pad for repeated attacks on Israel, as Gaza has become.