Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, November 26, 2012

Did Hamas win?

"Streets in Gaza city erupted after jubilation after the cease-fire." That was the caption of the photo in the New York Times. The question is, what did Hamas achieve to merit such jubilation?

Well, to be honest, not much. Hamas managed to show fellow Gazans that it still had some fire in its belly -- though the death of the head of Hamas' military wing, who was killed by Israel, meant that Hamas actually had to attack Israel full force, lest it lose credibility and show weaknesses to its rivals. In responding with violence, Hamas managed to prolong its rule over Gaza by reaffirming its commitment to anti-Israeli resistance and also attracting sympathies from fellow Palestinians in the West Bank. Beyond that, as James Traub of Foreign Policy noted, the centrality of Hamas weakened an already weak Palestinian Authority under President Abbas. 

At the same time, however, the war was a disaster for Hamas. The hope that the Arab Spring would prove beneficial for Hamas has been proven false. Hamas' political counterpart in Egypt, despite having explicit sympathy toward Hamas, refused to get involved militarily. Israel also managed to destroy a significant numbers of Hamas' missiles and wreck its smuggling tunnel -- though the extent of the damage is still unclear. Moreover, it is apparent that the terms of the ceasefire itself is still under dispute, with both sides signing the ceasefire without ironing out the terms beforehand. To put it bluntly, Hamas has duping its supporters, declaring that Israel had given up concessions while, in reality, Israel didn't.

In fact, Israel is the major beneficiary of this battle, thanks to the Iron Dome Missile Shield. Not only was IDMS fairly successful in protecting Israel from incoming attacks, but by taking live fire, the Israelis were able to monitor IDMS in action, paving the way for continued refinements. Going forward, IDMS will only become more capable and effective. And sooner or later, the regular missiles that Hamas and other militant groups used to launch toward will no longer pose the same kind of threat that Hamas used to pressure Israel. 

Moreover, the Iron Dome received such good press that it will also be commercially beneficial for Israel, with South Korea is looking forward to purchase some batteries. It can also be argued that the success of the Iron Dome itself makes it unnecessary for Israel to invade Gaza, which risks more lives, bad press, and for Benjamin Netanyahu, an unknown factor in his otherwise smooth ride toward reelection.

Whether the ceasefire holds depends on whether Egypt is an honest broker. Egypt has to simultaneously assure Israel that no rockets will enter Gaza and keep open the commercial links between Egypt and Gaza. There are concerns about whether Egypt can and will do this. After all, should Hamas really get cut off from its weapon suppliers in the region, Egyptian President Morsi would take a lot of heat domestically.

Still, the risk for Egypt is great: should the ceasefire fail, both Israel and Hamas can and might place blame on Egypt, and that would undermine Egypt's credibility and sink its goal to position itself as a diplomatic heavyweight in Middle East. And Washington, Tel Aviv, and surprisingly, Riyadh, which abhors the emergence of what it perceives as an Iranian client in its backyard, would also put heavy pressure on Egypt to make sure that none of the rocket parts can be smuggled for Hamas, despite Egypt's likely sympathy toward Hamas.

In addition, Morsi's controversial decision to grant himself more power at the expense of the Egyptian judiciary has already sparked demonstrations, protests, and legal challenges. The last thing he currently needs now is another distraction on Egypt's eastern border that would bring international pressure and might embolden his domestic opponents. Morsi likely prefers Hamas to lie down, and he might be inclined to maintain Egypt's position as honest power broker, meaning that Egypt will try to keep the commercial route open while halting the delivery of Hamas' rockets.

If that is the case, that the ceasefire holds and Egypt really does what is expected, then Hamas is the loser. It will be more difficult for Hamas to replenish its rockets. Added to these troubles, Hamas could suffer a massive loss of revenues, as it procures considerable profit (60% of its operating budget) from its ability to tax smuggling networks. Not surprisingly, this does not look good for Hamas. There is a good chance that everything will be back to the status quo, except now Israel is even more wary and skeptical of Hamas, as it discovered so many missiles managed to find their way into Gaza, and more secure, because of the IDMS.

So did Hamas win? If the definition of winning is to stay in power, then yes. Hamas has lived to see another day. Yet Hamas' "victory" came with a heavy price. Pyrrus probably summed it well: "If we are victorious in one more battle..., we shall be utterly ruined."

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