Outputs of the 50-Day War on Gaza

Friday, September 5, 2014

A War for Political Win which Ended in Misery for Israel

Hassan Ahmadian
Senior Researcher; IRI Expediency Council’s Center for Strategic Research (CSR)

The latest Israeli war on the Gaza Strip has finally come to an end with a permanent cease-fire after 50 days of armed conflict; a devastating war, which had no precedent in the history of the Palestinian coastal enclave. However, as the dust of war gradually settles down, a repetitive question is raised by analysts: What has been the main goal of this war and what outputs it has had? The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the war on Gaza after three Israelis living in a settlement built on the occupied West Bank were killed allegedly by Palestinians living in the same area. The Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, did not assume responsibility for the killing. In fact, none of the groups that are actively fighting against Israel officially accepted the responsibility for that incident. Despite the above fact, the operation to kill the three Israelis was carried out with special sophistication and was considered a security fiasco for Israel and dealt a severe blow to political standing of Netanyahu. Therefore, with or without good reason, Palestinians were considered the main party that should have paid the price for that operation with their lives and property in order to make up for part of the political cost that the operation had incurred on Netanyahu.

The war on Gaza started. The number of civilians killed in this war has had no precedent in military conflicts between the two sides during the past decades. In retaliation, Palestinian resistance groups rained their rockets and missiles on Israel. Although in terms of fire power, those rockets and missiles could not be compared to modern warplanes, bombers and missiles used by the Tel Aviv regime against the Gaza Strip, they were used as a tool to create some kind of balance of threat, though not a balance of casualties. The Palestinians had no other tool to use against Israel. In addition, Palestinian groups carried out surprise attacks against the invading Israeli forces, killing tens of Israeli soldiers. When Palestinians killed three Israeli soldiers in an ambush in their territory near the Gazan city of Rafah (which is located in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip), Israel not only accused Palestinians with having violated the terms of a cease-fire, but staged vast bombing missions against residential areas in Gaza, killing more than 100 Palestinian people. Interestingly enough, the Israeli officials never answered the question about what their soldiers were doing in the Palestinian territory. In this way, the Palestinians managed to realize the balance of threat they were looking for, but at the same time, the scale of damages done to the Gaza Strip was unprecedented.

Netanyahu, who had attacked the Gaza Strip with the presumption of inflicting on Gazans the cost of killing three Israeli settlers, was faced with a serious balance of threat in the early days following the beginning of the war. Therefore, he and his war cabinet decided to launch a ground attack against the Gaza Strip in order to prevent Palestinians from firing more missiles and rockets from the Palestinian enclave into Israel. However, before long, the goal of Israel’s invasion against Gaza was changed to stopping the balance of threat. The ground attack, however, posed a new challenge to Israel. All military personnel of Israel both inside and around the Gaza Strip were not only exposed to firepower of Palestinian fighters, but their entry into the Gaza Strip meant that they could be potentially caught in ambushes laid for them by Palestinian resistance groups. As a result, the casualties sustained by the Israeli military started to rise to an unprecedented level during the war on Gaza. As a result, as the war became prolonged, Israel’s primary goal of preventing Palestinians from achieving a balance of threat was reduced to the final goal of face-saving exist from the Palestinian territory and termination of war. To save face, the Israeli military claimed that its goal had been to destroy a network of tunnels dug by Palestinian resistance groups across the border with Israel. During all that time, the main goal pursued by Palestinians remained the same: to resist against the onslaught of the Israeli army and to prevent its further progress by putting the highest emphasis on the balance of threat.

The course of war determined its outputs. When the war began, like previous instances, the United States continued to support Israel for what is described as Israel’s fight against the “Palestinian terrorism.” However, nobody talked about the “Israeli terrorism.” This point is interesting because out of over 2,100 Palestinians killed during the recent 50-day war on Gaza, 80 percent were civilians. The massacre of civilians was a direct aftermath of Israel’s attacks on residential areas. On the opposite, out of 64 Israelis who were officially announced as having been killed by Palestinians, only 4 were civilians. There is no doubt that the proponents of the argument built on the “Palestinian terrorism,” mostly point to missiles and rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. A cursory glance at the statistics, however, reveals to what extent such a threat can be considered a real threat against Israel. A total of 31 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rockets from the spring of 2001 up to the end of the recent war on Gaza. On the opposite, during the same 13-year period, a total of 6,700 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis. The material damage imposed by Israeli wars on the Palestinian people is another indicator which clearly shows the wide gap that exists between Palestinian and Israeli casualties. Neither the United States, nor the European countries are unfamiliar with these facts. This issue has been verified by remarks made by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, which have been recorded by media as well. However, the power of pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States and European countries has so far prevented these facts from coming into the media limelight.

At the beginning of the war and as a pretext to continue the invasion of Gaza, Netanyahu alleged that the war will continue until Palestinian resistance groups stop firing missiles at Israel with the final goal being total cessation of Palestinians’ attacks on Israel. However, an arsenal which was supposed to be comprised of only 2,000 missiles was still active after 4,000 missiles had been fired at Israel. Under these circumstances, Israel resorted to Egypt and the United States in order to get out of the crisis it had created by its own hands. The Egypt under the rule of General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, quite unlike the Egypt that was ruled by former president, Mohamed Morsi, looks upon the Palestinian resistance groups not as an opportunity, but as a strategic burden. Therefore, Cairo started its mediatory efforts without reducing the pressure resulting from the siege on the Gaza Strip even one ratchet. Therefore, as long as the Israelis had not conceded to give certain concessions to Palestinians under the pressure of the Palestinian resistance groups, the Egyptian government stood firm on its primary position that Palestinians should accept the cease-fire without any precondition. At last, both Israel and Egypt were forced to adjust their positions because they were faced with an unprecedented situation in which instead of accepting any kind of cease-fire, Palestinians were actually setting conditions for their acceptance.

The output of the 50-day war on Gaza was first of all a moral fiasco for Israel as well as its regional and international supporters. The massacre of about 1,600 civilians, destruction of people’s houses besieged by Israel, and pouring down various kinds of missiles and bombs on them in return for inaccurate firing of primitive missiles most of which were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome, brought nothing on Israel but a moral, political and even military defeat. Palestinians not only did not hand in their arms, but did not even stop incessant barrage of missiles against Israel and at the end of the war, they forced Israel to accept their new conditions on loosening the siege of Gaza and giving Gazans more space for fishing along the coasts of the Palestinian enclave. Facilitating transit of people and goods through border crossings and extending the fishing limits for the people of Gaza to a distance of up to six miles from the Palestinian territory’s coastal border were major achievements that Palestinian resistance groups presented to their people. The important point is that these achievements are backed by military rules and are part of conditions set for cease-fire. Therefore, Israel will not be able to ignore the achievements of Palestinians under special conditions and in accordance with its own priorities (like the situation that we occasionally see with regard to the implementation of certain agreements in the Gaza Strip) without paying a price.

The destruction done to some cities and neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip are reminiscent of the havoc that was wreaked on the Polish capital city of Warsaw during the World War II. According to one of the articles that have been included in the cease-fire agreement, Israel will have to open its border crossings with the Gaza Strip in order to facilitate import of necessary building material for the reconstruction of Gaza. Before the agreement, this would have been practically impossible. In addition, a conference hosted by Egypt will be held in October with its main topic being the reconstruction of Gaza. In other words, the cease-fire agreement has it that all costs imposed on the people of Gaza in this regard should be compensated. Naturally, the massacre of Palestinian civilians inside their homes (which led to the elimination of about 90 Palestinian families) can by no means be compensated. However, from a security and military perspective, Palestinian fighters managed through imposing the balance of threat on Israel to make Tel Aviv, as the aggressor party, give in to the new situation. The moral and political failure of Netanyahu’s government should be added to the above list of the costs that Israel has incurred as a consequence of its recent war on Gaza. As a result, a change in government and possibly early elections in Israel can be well expected. In other words, although Netanyahu launched the war on Gaza in order to reduce the political cost of the killing of three Israeli settlers, he is now sustaining additional costs as a result of its aggressive policy which has left over 2,100 Palestinians and close to 70 Israelis dead.

Key Words: 50-Day War, Gaza, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Rafah, Civilians, Missiles, Cease-Fire, Moral Fiasco, Ahmadian

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*Photo Credit: NBC News

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