Can Israel Win in Gaza?
Dmitry MININ | 26.07.2014 | WORLD / Middle East

Can Israel Win in Gaza?

Gaza Strip has been bleeding for already 50 years. Palestinian leaders change, the Israeli governments come and go, but the process never stops. This small chunk of land with the population of one and a half million people never leaves completely the world radar screen. It always follows the same kind of vicious circle. Sometimes the reports come saying Tel Aviv has finally decided to settle the Gaza problem. Normally such news are followed by new victims and damage inflicted by Israel and it all turns back to where it was. That’s what is happening this time too. No operation Solid Rock, as they call it, launched against Palestinians can stand in Gaza where there is no solid ground for a rock to stand on. Israel will report about delivering a shattering blow against terrorists, while Palestinians will mourn their next of kin and start to brace up for next fight… 

Today the conflict is exacerbated by extremely complicated regional situation; the tensions are running high enough to implode the whole Middle East. No strategic goal achieved, the Israeli leadership actually boosts the clout of already influential Islamic radicalism in the region. Without making Palestine a full-fledged state, something Israel still opposes, the problem cannot be solved. 

There are many explanations why Israel decided to strike Gaza now. One of the reasons is unexpected advance of jihadist the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The prospect of HAMAS and ISIL getting together made Israel take a preventive action. It all goes against the plan as it usually does. Palestinians are right saying that striking civilians in Gaza and HAMAS infrastructure, the group that positions itself as another moderate Islamic movement like Muslim Brothers, may result in inveterate jihadists grabbing power in the Strip. No doubt they will strike an alliance with the Islamic State. As a result the strategic situation of Israel will only deteriorate. 

Well-known Israeli writer Etgar Keret says that even when the last HAMAS fighter dies, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state will not fade away. Before HAMAS Israel had fought the Palestinian Organization of Liberation, with HAMAS gone Israel will have to fight another Palestinian group. The Israeli army can win a battle, but only a political compromise can bring Israelis peace and tranquility. The Israeli losses happened to be unexpectedly high. Israeli military experts believe HAMAS is successfully copying the tactics used by Lebanese Hezbollah in 2006. Palestinians, as well as the Lebanese back then, widely use underground tunnels and bunkers, improvised explosive devices (IED), anti-tank missiles and drones against Israeli ground troops. They launch rockets against large cities to weaken the political support for war. 

According to Palestinian sources, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have killed 52 Israeli servicemen. Unlike previous actions, commissioned officers die too. For instance, Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar (38), from Modiin, Commander (magad) of Gefen Battalion, was killed during terrorist incursion into Israel when terrorists fired a RPG at his jeep. Russian by origin Captain Dmitri Levitas, 26, who commanded a tank company, was shot dead, a Sergeant is taken prisoner and 36 armor vehicles are hit. The other side’s information does not differ much. In narrow streets and labyrinths many Tsahal advantages don’t work. The initiative and reaction decide the outcome in urban warfare. The brigade Golani was involved in fierce fighting inside the city quarters. Israeli experts say HAMAS fighters don’t hide anymore like in the times of Operation Cast Lead, the militants rush to fight headlong like suicide bombers. Anti-tank munitions and shahid's belts (a belt packed with explosives) are the most deadly weapons. They strike unexpectedly from underground hide-outs and tunnels. According to Tsahal, HAMAS sends more strike groups to counter the offensive. The militants regroup underground where they have their warehouses. The underground structure is the main target for Tsahal. The Palestinian main headquarters are supposed to be camouflaged somewhere in an undetected underground. Until now the combat was mainly concentrated in the urban periphery, the Israeli losses may increase as the troops near the heart of the city. 

Many experts don’t share the mainstream opinion of Israeli press that the rockets launched from Gaza either miss the targets or get hit by the Iron Dome missile defense system. HAMAS may be testing the Israeli missile defense capabilities in the conditions of all-out war. The mission is to define the level of Iron Dome’s level of saturation. A few rockets hitting residential areas are not the mission. The real goal was to assess the missile defense capabilities of Tel-Aviv, nuclear reactor in Dimonaа in Negev, Hadera power station, Ben-Gurion international airport, the port cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.

The operation against HAMAS has made Israel and moderate Arab regimes even more threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The jihadists recruit young people in the Muslim countries. The peril grows for Jordan, an Israeli neighbor. Not so long ago Israel said it won’t let Jordan be destabilized even it requires sending troops. The events in Gaza diminish the Israeli operational capability to act somewhere else. Receiving Israeli military aid would be as dangerous for the Abdullah II, the king of Jordan, as an intervention of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. 55 % of Jordan’s population are Palestinian refugees. 

Israel may not worry about the condemnation by the United Nations as long as the United States is a permanent member of the Security Council. The tourist season seems to be over. Many companies don’t fly to Israel anymore. The damage is felt being measured in millions, or even billion dollars. 

The reconciliation within Palestinian ranks is hardly a good news for Israel too. For instance, HAMAS leader Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Abbas, President of Palestine National Authority, have met in Qatar. 

Hamas senior official Izzat al-Rishk said the parties talked about the Zionist aggression in Gaza in detail, including the steps to stop the intervention and lift the Gaza blockade in cooperation with Egypt, Arab and international organizations. 

Ankara may feel grudge about it, but the Gaza events boosted the regional clout of Egypt. Turkey lost nine people when trying to deliver aid to Gaza. It seeks the role of HAMAS sponsor. But it’s Egyptian president as-Sisi who was chosen to act as an intermediary in the conflict. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an ardent supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, is infuriated over the role Egypt is playing in trying to broker a cease-fire in Gaza.

He is questioning Cairo’s role by arguing that Egypt is currently governed by a tyrant, and claiming that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the coup against Morsi and the Brotherhood, is merely using Gaza as a pretext to legitimize his rule. “Sisi is not a party to this. He himself is a cruel perpetrator of a coup. He has blocked Hamas’ access to food and aid by closing the roads to Gaza», Erdogan told reporters after attending Friday prayers on July 18. "Egypt is not a party. … They are trying to legitimize the administration in Egypt," he said.

Erdogan clearly cannot accept that Sisi, whom he has been constantly vilifying since the Egyptian coup, may play a leading role in Gaza. His claim that the Egyptian leader is merely seeking legitimization by using Gaza even forced some diplomats in Ankara to ask whether Erdogan is concerned more about undermining Sisi than about securing an early cease-fire in Gaza.

Egypt is the only another country to have a land border with Gaza. It can offer aid in exchange for more loyalty on the part of HAMAS leadership. 

The growing Israeli death toll increases the chances for cease-fire giving HAMAS a chance to declare victory no matter suffering heavy losses. The Israeli armed forces are also far from being victorious. Israel believes HAMAS may agree to cease-fire in case Egypt promises more check-points between Gaza and Sinai, as well as giving payments to 43 thousand of HAMAS bureaucrats. 

As it has been reported recently, HAMAS has agreed to a five-day truce in case this period of time will be used for launching talks on fundamental change of Gaza status. The only thing left is to hope this fragile cease-fire, if it takes place, will bring positive results. It’s easier to start a war than to find a way out of it.