It would be either an understatement or an overstatement to determine the winning side in the current war in Gaza by the body count and the number of destroyed homes and government buildings on the Palestinian side, or the ability of Israel’s “Iron Dome” to intercept Qassam rockets on the Israeli side. Without doubt, intercepting rockets from Gaza is painful to the Palestinian side and gives Israel an edge in its war with Hamas, but it cannot be considered an accurate measure of military success, nor is it a reason which allows Israel to declare a strategic victory against Hamas. The 19th-century German general and military strategist Carl von Clausewitz said: “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” In other words, wars are fought in a bid to change the political situation so that the victor benefits and the defeated suffer. Bearing Clausewitz’s definition of war in mind, one can conclude that talk of “victory” by Israeli politicians is no more than propaganda to galvanize domestic support, particularly as politicians there have one eye on forthcoming elections.
Israel would have achieved an overwhelming victory had the war with Hamas resulted in the destruction of the Islamist movement’s infrastructure and its political and military wings. But this has not been the case, and Israel’s military machine has failed to crush Hamas in several wars on Gaza, from operations Summer Rains, Autumn Clouds and Hot Winter, to Cast Lead, Returning Echo and Pillar of Defense. And no one expects its current attack on Gaza (Operation Protective Edge) to be any different. On the contrary, after all those horrible wars, Hamas was able to rise again, develop its military capabilities, and acquire sophisticated weapons despite the destruction and closure of its tunnels by Israel.
Israel would have the right to declare a strategic victory against its bitter enemy Hamas had the people of Gaza staged an uprising against the Islamist movement. Israel (and others) had hoped to end Hamas’s rule over Gaza. All Israeli attacks on the enclave have failed to produce any sign of a popular uprising or public reluctance towards Hamas, despite the extreme agony, the increasing number of martyrs, and the extent of the damage. On the contrary, due to its resistance of Israel, Hamas’s popularity has been on the up, as the Israelis themselves acknowledge. Gazans have shown a remarkable steadfastness in the face of Israel’s hubris simply because they deeply believe that Hamas—even if some oppose it—is fighting a war against a barbaric occupier which has been humiliating all Palestinians, whether they support the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.
Despite the bitter concessions offered by the Palestinian Authority, Israel has failed to meet the most basic conditions for peace talks to proceed, humiliating Ramallah with procrastination and neglect. As for the people of Gaza, they do not see any harm in the Palestinian resistance movement disrupting the lives of Israelis with rockets as long as this allows them to reclaim some dignity. This is not to mention the blockade Israel has imposed on the enclave with utmost brutality, turning people’s lives into hell.
It would be erroneous to think that a true victory for Hamas in its battle with Israel would be for the Islamist movement to cause maximum damage in Israel, whether in terms of lives or property. Even if it misses a few of them, the Iron Dome has intercepted the majority of Hamas’s rockets. The group’s strategic victory lies in disrupting the feeling that Israel is a peaceful oasis in a turbulent region. The suspension of international Israel-bound flights, the sounding of sirens in Israel, the killing and capture of a relatively large number of Israeli soldiers, and the international sympathy with Gaza due to Israel’s crimes have put Israel and its people in an awkward position. This is not to mention the footage of Israeli massacres and the heroic accounts of Palestinian resistance fighters that will inspire the next generation to liberate their occupied territories.