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Hamas was Defeated, Until the Next Time

By Efraim Inbar

Executive Summary: During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas was clearly defeated, but was not destroyed. Israel was successful in significantly degrading the military capabilities of Hamas and forced it to accept the Egyptian-Israeli ceasefire unconditionally. Despite criticism of Israel’s “disproportionate” response and over seventy Israeli casualties, the operation was supported by many key international actors and the fighting caused little damage to Israel. As there is no political solution to the conflict in sight, Israel may be forced to “mow the grass” again and more vigorously so.

Hamas was clearly defeated by Israel in “Operation Protective Edge,’ but not destroyed. Its destruction was not a goal of Israel’s military campaign. What Israel wanted was a weakened Hamas to continue to rule Gaza. The separation between Gaza and the West Bank serves Israel’s interest in weakening the Palestinian national movement, which has been and remains a mortal enemy (not a peace partner), at least for the foreseeable future.

Israel decided to once again “mow the grass” in Gaza under the assumption that it is engaged in a protracted intractable conflict where a patient strategy of attrition is needed to significantly degrade the capabilities of Hamas to harm Israel. This was achieved. About one third of Hamas’ missile arsenal and most of its missile production infrastructure was destroyed. Most of the attack tunnels (32) were probably demolished, and almost one thousand Hamas fighters and a few of its leaders were eliminated. More targeted killings and an earlier removal of some of the self-imposed constraints on the use of airpower might have speeded Hamas’ acceptance of a ceasefire and might have spared Gaza much destruction.

The Hamas defeat is clear, because it finally capitulated to the Egyptian cease fire proposal that Hamas had been rejected since July 15. The unlimited ceasefire, as Egypt and Israel demanded, constituted the precondition for future negotiations, and it had no input from Qatar and Turkey, both Hamas supporters. All crossings into Gaza will continue to be controlled by Israel and Egypt, making sure that the rearmament of Hamas will not be easy. Egypt even forced Hamas to swallow a bitter pill such as the presence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) at the Rafah crossing. The Hamas “victory speeches” cannot erase the fact that Hamas eventually gave in unconditionally to Egyptian-Israeli pressure.

Despite much criticism abroad of Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force, Israel was allowed for 50 days, quite a long period, to pulverize Hamas installations and their surroundings. It was clear that a large number of Arab states tacitly supported the Israeli endeavor to administer a heavy blow on Hamas. Important international actors, such as India, China and Russia, were rather mute on the Gaza issue for their own reasons. Moreover, the US, the EU and parts of the international community demanded demilitarization of Gaza too. This is of course not attainable without collecting Hamas weaponry by force, but it delegitimizes Hamas violence, while lending legitimacy to Israel’s defensive measures.

Read more: The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies


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