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Opinion: Israel and Hamas break bones, but who will cry first? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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As I was writing this article, the war in Gaza had escalated into a war of bone-breaking between Hamas and its Palestinian allies on one hand and Israel on another. The war is no longer a walk in the park for Israel in which jets roam Gaza and turn its people’s lives into hell by killing them, destroying their houses and intimidating them into continuously fleeing their homes to take refuge inside cramped schools. We can imagine the fear, panic and grief as more people die and are injured. Now that the Israeli army has launched its ground assault on Gaza, Israeli souls have come closer to Palestinian fire. The number of Israelis killed was no more than two when the war began. By the time I wrote this article, it had reached 33. It’s true that the number of Palestinians killed is more than 1,000 and that several thousands more were injured, but all this has a price now.

The price Israel is paying does not only include the fall of tens of its soldiers, but it also includes the suspension of flights to Ben Gurion Airport. Israel now knows the meaning of war, but perhaps not as much as Palestinians do. But Palestinian blood no longer comes at a price, it seems. The war is still in its first phase, because both parties are no longer capable of accepting a ceasefire: it would mean losing the entire war.

Regardless of which path led Palestinians and Israelis towards this war, it began with a series of surprises. The first Israeli surprise was the efficiency of its Iron Dome in protecting its major cities. At one point, it seemed like Israel could co-exist with danger. However, domestic pressures quickly forced the Israeli government to deal with the state of fear that affected life in Israel. A series of Palestinian surprises also surfaced. It began with the intensity of the Palestinian missiles, which suggest they have a large stockpile that, in my mind, could not have been amassed through smuggling operations.

In my view, this must mean the Palestinians have been making these missiles. Although they may be homemade and their navigation systems may be inaccurate, they have reached some parts of Israel. No matter how random the shelling, the narrowness of Israeli space meant these missiles would reach some sort of target.

The second surprise has been that these Palestinian missiles reached unexpected ranges. As we say in Egypt, “the bullet that doesn’t harm, intimidates.”

The third surprise was the emergence of Palestinians inside Israel itself, via a network of tunnels which Israel—and Israel’s intelligence apparatuse knew nothing about, it seems.

Put these Palestinian surprises together and take a look at the conclusion Israeli decision-making circles have reached—that there’s a lot they don’t know about what’s in or under Gaza. Therefore, it will be impossible to devise and understand calculations of power in the area. This, I believe, is what led the Israeli government to carry out a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The issue has become an Israeli surprise in which Israel takes a decision which it knows will change the nature of the strategic relationship between itself and Gaza. The nature of war before the invasion was based on uneven relations of power. Israel could shell the Strip with few material losses, but with huge dents to morale. The ground invasion and the entrance of Israeli troops into the Strip morphed this uneven or unbalanced war. When Israel’s aim is to search for and destroy tunnels and arms’ factories, its troops must enter the Strips’ streets and camps. In these narrow allies, fighters are all equal.

So, both parties are in a dilemma. Israel, which entered the war perhaps thinking it would be a walk in the park, found itself confronting a greater danger, as well as missile threats, many of which have been neutralized thanks to the Iron Dome.
Despite that, these missiles have unexpected effects. In addition to the tunnels, the missiles have brought the Israeli population face to face with a grave threat. I don’t think Israel has a plan to deal with this crisis because now it can no longer stay inside Gaza and bear continuous and escalating operations against it. The Israeli government will be facing pressure to attain a victory similar to what it attained following the ground invasion of South Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Hamas is also in a dilemma, as it seems to have decided it won the war since it launched its first set of missiles and, of course, after capturing an Israeli soldier. Now that the number of dead Israelis has reached into the dozens, the banners of victory scream out, regardless of the situation in Gaza. Hamas cannot reach this level of victory and then allow the situation in ravaged Gaza to return to how it was. The Palestinian aim now must be to lift the siege of Gaza and open all borders around it. This aim could have been achieved if these border crossings had been handed over to the Palestinian authority, but it seems as though Hamas wants the border crossings and the tunnels under its complete control.

The result is that both parties are demanding more than they can achieve. Israel and Hamas will have to break each other’s bones until one of them cries out.

Israel’s problem, in my view, is that it cannot achieve what it wants until it reoccupies Gaza. This is a nightmare the Israelis no longer desire, I feel. There’s also nothing that makes this a viable solution to the Israeli crisis. Hamas’s problem is that an increase in the duration of the war will not only increase Palestinian sacrifices but will also lead to questions over the Palestinians’ aims achieved regarding liberation, independence, the return of refugees to the land of Palestine and a sovereign state with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.

Does the situation seem impossible? The world does not think so, at least up until the time I wrote this article. International and regional efforts are still active. There are initiatives and counter-initiatives, and both parties may suddenly realize that one of these initiatives is enough to send them back to the stance they held before the fighting. If this fails, then perhaps I will have to write another article about the new Gaza war.

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said is the director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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