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By: Prof. Dr. Walid ʻAbd al-Hay.

The Israeli aggression on Gaza Strip (GS) in July 2014 represents a milestone in the current phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Away from the excuses invoked by Netanyahu to justify the huge number of raids on civilian neighborhoods in GS, the military operation has two main goals, one is strategic and the other is tactical:

a. The Strategic Objective: is to disarm the Palestinian resistance in GS, as declared explicitly by Israeli Prime Minister on July 15. He said, “We agreed to the Egyptian proposal in order to give an opportunity for the demilitarization of the

[Gaza] Strip – from missiles, from rockets and from tunnels – through diplomatic means,” (1). It seems that this ambitious Israeli goal is emerging thanks to an Arab environment that has been weakened by internal conflict following the Arab Spring, regardless of any assessment of the latter.
 
b. Tactical Goals such as:

1. Bringing back tension to the internal Palestinian situation, after efforts for Palestinian reconciliation began to bear fruit.

2. Testing the strategic orientations of the new Egyptian regime.

The extent at which political objectives are achieved will be the main criterion for judging whether or not the military operation is successful. It appears from the initial assessment that Israel has achieved some tactical successes, while strategically speaking, it has lost. This assessment was corroborated by many reports and studies, especially from the United States (US) (2). The gains and losses until this moment (26/07/2014) for the Israeli side can be summed up as follows:

a. Tactical Gains:

1. Increasing material burdens on Hamas, through mass casualties and widespread destruction in GS.

2. Limiting casualties among Israeli civilians, due to the relative success of the Iron Dome in intercepting rockets.

3. Deepening inter-Arab differences particularly between the rival axes in the Arab world. Diplomatic disputes emerged, during the efforts to reach a truce, which was between the Turkish-Qatari axis opposed to the Egyptian ceasefire initiative, and the Egyptian-Saudi axis backed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which supports this initiative.

b. Strategic Losses:

1. Increasing the popularity of the resistance among the Palestinians at the expense of pro-negotiation factions led by the PA. It is possible to compare the effects of the current battle in GS at the popular level to the Battle of Karama in 1968 in this regard, especially in terms of the impressive military performance of the resistance. This has been reflected with the high death toll among Israeli soldiers who serve a state in whose strategy the human element is the weakest link. Another effect is the possibility of negotiating the release of more Palestinian prisoners in return for the Israeli soldier captured by the resistance, which also reinforces the logic of resistance in dealing with Israel.

2. Creating a popular environment conducive to a third Intifadah in the West Bank (WB), and reviving the bonds among the components of the Palestinian people in WB, GS and the territories occupied in 1948.

3. Bringing the Palestinian issue back to the regional and international fore after it was blocked by the smokes of the Arab Spring.  This is evident from the fact that the Palestinian issue has occupied front-page headlines of the international media on the one hand, and the fact that it has spurred concerted diplomatic efforts on the other hand, as well as prompting mass protests in quite a few capitals around the world, including London, Paris, and Washington. Some Latin American countries have even recalled their ambassadors from Israel (Brazil and Ecuador).  Even the British House of Commons saw some fierce discussions regarding the British government’s attitude vis-à-vis Israel, as shown by the interventions of some representatives from various political parties on July 21: Peter Hain, Richard Burden, David Winnick, (Labour), Menzies Campbell (Liberal), Crispin Blunt (Conservative), along with remarks by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

This image was reinforced with a resolution issued by the United Nations (UN) Council for Human Rights to launch an independent inquiry into the violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, with the growing number of Palestinian civilian casualties. The resolution was opposed by the US, while European countries abstained.

4. Bringing an end to the sense of security in Israel that came with the halt in resistance operations in WB and the territories occupied in 1948. This was reflected in the resurgent security concerns among Israelis throughout Israel, and not just in the southern settlements adjacent to GS, especially after the resistance’s rockets were able to hit all Israeli cities. This sense of insecurity was further deepened as most airlines suspended flights to Israel, and Israeli passengers were stranded at a number of airports around the world. No doubt, this security issue will impact Israel though the following dynamics:

I- The impact on Jewish immigration to Israel because of instability.

II- Deepening contrasts within Israeli society, about how to settle the Palestinian question and related projects. Audi Siegel (Political Affairs Analyst in the Israeli Channel 2) opined, “The probability that Hamas will be destroyed in Gaza does not exceed zero,” adding that all calculations made by Israel in the course of its military operation had “collapsed.” Ran Edelist, political commentator in Maariv, also wrote that the projections made by Yoram Cohen, head of Shin Bet, regarding the situation in GS were on the basis of ideology rather objective calculations. Edelist goes on to say that Cohen’s deputy, Y., as they call him, applied the same ideological, non-objective standards, taking advantage of Netanyahu’s desire to improve his position in the government, but ended up implicating him. Accordingly, Edelist demanded an investigation into the causes of this Israeli intelligence failure.

Therefore, the repercussions of the battle must be assessed in light of military outcomes on the one hand, and the potential political developments on the other hand. In military terms, it is clear that the momentum of the Palestinian resistance did not change from the beginning of the battle, especially when it comes to the rate of rocket fire. This reflects the failure of Netanyahu to achieve his stated goals, not to mention the rising death toll in the ranks of the Israeli army with every incursion attempt in GS. However, the more important dimension here is the political dimension, which is a worrisome aspect, especially with the emergence of two prominent features in this regard:

1. The general direction of Arab and international political activity revolves around the Egyptian initiative, which the resistance sees as imbalanced in both form and content, especially since it equates the two sides in its formulation, and makes negotiations regarding ending the blockade of GS, a secondary issue to ceasefire. In other words, the initiative saves Israel from its current predicament, and initiates an endless cycle of negotiations concerning the most important current issue, i.e., the blockade.

It seems that the Egyptian initiative, owing to the US, Russian, European, and partial Arab support, represents the primary point of weakness in the resistance’s position, which undermines the political gains of the resistance’s military performance.

The current Egyptian initiative is being sold in the media as the same initiative upon which the 2012 ceasefire agreement was based (under former Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi), with the aim of embarrassing the resistance, and claiming that the latter is rejecting the initiative for “partisan” reasons related to the political conflict in Egypt.

2. The Palestinian position is caught between two clear dilemmas whose implications could develop in a way that invalidates all the gains from the battle:

a. The Arab diplomatic efforts to achieve political scores for rival regional axes, especially the Qatari-Turkish axis on the one hand, and the Egyptian-Saudi axis on the other. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan criticized Egyptian President Sisi, and successive media campaigns were launched between the two axes, turning the Palestinian issue from a goal to a tool, which is extremely dangerous.

b. The ambiguity of the attitudes of the Palestinian president on many levels: He supports the Egyptian initiative and has not supported the resistance in any way; whether by threatening to halt security collaboration, call for an Intifadah in WB, or even sign up to international conventions, especially the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court.

3. Disputes between resistance factions – especially Hamas – and Arab countries like Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia concerning the Arab Spring have continued, restricting the margin of political maneuverability for Palestinians.

The state of overlap among these conflicting variable indicates that reaching a ceasefire will not take a long time. It seems that the two sides, Israel and the resistance, will show some flexibility, while the Netanyahu stated goal of disarming the resistance will gradually slip behind in the jargon of Israeli and international diplomacy.

Furthermore, combining the bid for a ceasefire with the demand of ending the GS siege (as the resistance wants) or separating the two issues (as Israel wants) is clearly the essence of diplomatic activity at present. This equation (correlation or separation of the two) will only be determined by the results of the military confrontation and the ability of the two sides to bear its costs.
Perhaps the ignition of a Palestinian Intifadah in the WB may pressure Israel to retreat from the idea of separating the ceasefire from lifting the GS siege.

However, it is imperative to warn here that the Americans and Israelis in particular, and regional parties in general, may be wagering that proposing different ideas for a ceasefire could create a rift among resistance factions with respect to how to deal with these proposals. Although things on the field indicate there is great harmony among resistance fighters, the possibilities of political divergence among resistance factions is something that hostile forces may be wagering on in the hope of opening cracks in the resistance’s wall.

It seems that Israel’s attempt to peddle the idea of a unilateral ceasefire is no more than a public relations stunt, to portray the resistance as “intransigent.” At the same time, stepping up Israeli bombardment campaign, especially against civilian targets, is another way to pressure the resistance to comply with its terms – something that the resistance has so far refused. 

So far, the resistance has done well to avoiding any political statements attacking Arab countries (particularly the Egyptian government), despite all reservations it has regarding the official positions of the Egyptian state. Egypt continues its closure of the Rafah border crossing, which is meant to put pressure on the resistance to accept the Egyptian initiative as it is.

The bottom line is that it seems that the UN, in cooperation with US Secretary of State John Kerry, is trying to put forward the idea of an extendable “humanitarian ceasefire” for hours or days. They hope that negotiations would continue throughout this ceasefire, during which the Israeli forces would retreat from the outskirts of GS. When the negotiations go into further detail, the stakeholders might refloat the idea of having the crossings put under the control of the PA (with its security coordination with Israel), alongside monitors from the European Union and may be even Turkey. The clauses of the final agreement would consider the Egyptian initiative the reference frame or that it had contributed greatly to reaching an agreement.

This means that we are facing two possibilities: either the Egyptian initiative would be agreed upon, or it will be amended by the UN, so that it doesn’t appear as a victory of one axis against the other, in the context of regional bickering. All this will depend on who will “blink first,” because political negotiations will be inseparable from the developments on the battlefield. Hence, we call on the resistance fighters to “keep their eyes on the prize.”

Footnotes:

1- BBC, 24/7/2014.
2- Ariel Ilan Roth, How Hamas Won: Israel’s Tactical Success and Strategic Failure, Foreign Affairs, 20/7/2014.


 


Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 29/7/2014