On Wednesday November 21, under an Egypt-brokered deal, Palestinians and Israelis agreed to end all hostilities against each other after eight days of relentless Israeli attacks on the coastal enclave. Israel also agreed to open all crossings and facilitate the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza Strip. But it did not accept a proposal to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Over 160 Palestinians, mostly women and children, were killed and about 1,200 others were injured in over 1,500 Israeli attacks on Gaza that were carried out during the eight-day period of November 14-21. It is too early to tell whether the ceasefire will hold for very long, and if it does, whether its central provisions will be implemented.
For those who still remember the Israeli attack on Gaza four years ago and the slaughter of Palestinian civilians and the repeated violation of ceasefire agreement by the Israelis, the current ceasefire should hold no hope, especially as we have begun to notice similar patterns of violations taking place again. Looking back four years, to the end of ‘Cast Lead’ and since then and up to the beginning of last Israeli attack, 271 Palestinians, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, have been assassinated by Israeli air strikes, by drones, by planes, by helicopters and ZERO Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets.
Israel has already used excessive violence to disperse Palestinian civilians who gathered on the Gaza side of the border, with a few straying across into Israel, to celebrate what they thought was their new freedom now to venture close to the border. This so-called ‘no-go-area’ was decreed by Israel after its 2005 ‘disengagement’ had been a killing field where 213, including 17 children and 154 uninvolved, had lost their lives. Only in the last few days, Israeli security forces, after firing warning shots, killed one Palestinian civilian and wounded another 20 others with live ammunition. Despite this note of pessimism there are a number of fundamental differences between the situation in Gaza and Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2012 compared to 2008.
First, the change of dynamics resulting from the Arab Spring and change in Egypt. The two regional countries that the U.S. needs badly to act as interlocutors, and isolate Hamas — Turkey and Egypt — are arguably right now the closest and most important allies of Hamas. Israel is more isolated than Hamas and has fewer friends. Even the British Foreign secretary, who under normal circumstances is only good for rubber stamping whatever Israelis does, this time took a cautionary approach and did not offer any support for a ground invasion.
The fact that Israel cannot count on diplomatic support from U.S.-oriented regimes such as Mubarak of Egypt creates a new dynamic in the Middle East and puts far greater pressure on Israeli leaders to be more realistic in their approach to the peace process. This generates a better environment for a more realistic and pragmatic approach to finding a longer lasting, and more permanent peace in the Middle East.
The second difference in my assessment is Hamas’ acquisition of more sophisticated weapons dealt a serious blow to Israeli morale. These long-range missiles allowed Hezbollah in Lebanon during the 2006 Israeli war not only to secure itself against Israeli aggression, most importantly: it created a more symmetrical confrontation by taking the war into cities in the occupied territories that had been immune from any attack for a long time.
The attack on Tel Aviv soon after the first Israeli attack on Gaza in the latest war, not only was a shock to the political leadership in the Israeli government, it heralded a new chapter in the relation between the freedom fighters in Gaza and the Israeli occupying forces. These weapons turned the table of confrontation with Israel in favor of Gaza and made another Israeli victim feel bold enough, if not fully secure, to confront it with a real sting.
One does not need a complicated analysis to conclude that if the fighters in Gaza have gained access to missiles that can reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, then they must have acquired anti-tank weapons similar to those that were used by Hezbollah in 2006 with devastating consequences for the Israeli tank divisions and especially for Markova 4 tanks that the Israelis had invested so much in constructing an image of invincibility around it globally.
It became clear soon after the 2006 war with Lebanon that the Achilles heel of the Israelis was the fear factor that demoralized its population. The fact that, in 2012 as in 2006, it was Israel who proposed the truce, clearly indicate that for the military leaders in Israel, a scared population is not the same as the dead Gazans are for Hamas – scared populations would sap the shaky morale in Israel even further, while for the freedom fighters in Gaza, innocent civilian casualties energize them to go an extra-mile to avenge.
Like the 2006 war, the underdog, Hamas, comes out of this confrontation in much more favorable status than the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv. Despite all the military shields, Hamas was able, even in the last hours of the conflict, to attack Israel. This has certainly enhanced Hamas’s prestige among Palestinians and in the Arab world, and, in a ‘zero sum gain’ relationship, any gain of prestige by Hamas by necessity implies a loss for the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas. It will be more difficult than ever to bolster the Fatah leadership on the West Bank as Hamas grows in stature.
The third outcome of this war is political recognition given to Hamas leadership by a number of Arab leaders. During the attacks several leading foreign ministers from the region visited Gaza and were received by the Hamas governing authorities, thus undermining the Israeli policy of isolating Hamas and excluding it from participation in diplomacy affecting the Palestinian people. As Richard Falk has stated:
. . . throughout this just concluded feverish effort to establish a ceasefire, Hamas was treated as if ‘a political actor’ with sovereign authority to speak on behalf of the people living in Gaza. Such a move represents a potential sea change, depending on whether there is an effort to build on the momentum achieved or a return to the futile and embittering Israeli/U.S. policy of excluding Hamas from diplomatic channels by insisting that no contact with a terrorist organization is permissible or politically acceptable.
The most important outcome of the latest attack has been the strengthening of the argument that the existence of more parity in the region would undermine the hawkish and belligerent Israeli position that so far, with the overt and covert support of the US, has not agreed to implement any treaties agreed upon in the previous negotiations and by implication would lead to a softening of such a position making a long term resolution of this conflict more likely. I hope this realization would lead to less saber rattling about attacking Iran.
Like Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas has punched a big hole in Israel’s overinflated air ego balloon sending the military leaders to the drawing board. This may be an opportune moment for the peace lovers in the region to become more active. They may be able to prevent this carnage from being repeated again.
Ibrahim Kazerooni, originally from Iraq, is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog.