For the moment, the Gaza war of 2014 is over. Anyone trying now to figure out who won and who lost should recall the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Then, Israelis had a great sense of letdown because they had not “won.” They had not destroyed Hezbollah, and the organization loudly claimed a triumph: “Lebanon has been victorious, Palestine has been victorious, Arab nations have been victorious,” said Sheikh Nasrallah. An estimated 800,000 Hezbollah supporters gathered in Beirut for a rally celebrating the “divine victory.”
But Nasrallah later said he would not have started the war had he understood how strong would be the Israeli reaction, and he has kept the Israeli-Lebanese border quiet for eight years now. Looking back, it’s clear that Israel won that 2006 exchange, which lasted 34 days.
This round with Hamas lasted longer, 50 days, and it’s fair to say that “who won?” can best be answered in retrospect some years from now. As Daniel Polisar put it, it’s difficult right now to see through the “fog of cease-fire.” But there is ample justification to say that Israel won, for three reasons.
First, a good measure of who won is who achieved their war aims. Israel’s key goal was to restore “quiet for quiet,” and that is what this cease-fire deal does. Even Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times, whose biases against Israel are so clear in its coverage, had to acknowledge that Hamas “declared victory even though it had abandoned most of its demands, ultimately accepting an Egyptian-brokered deal that differs little from one proffered on the battle’s seventh day.” Hamas’s goals had been far greater, and it rejected that first Egyptian cease-fire proposal over a month ago precisely because those goals were not met. But in the deal just agreed on, there is no airport, no seaport, no “end to the blockade,” no freeing of Hamas militants rearrested by Israel (after their release months ago as part of agreements with the Palestinian Authority).
What has Hamas gained by continuing the war another month? Israel agrees to extend the Gaza fishing grounds from three to six miles, and agrees to cooperate in efforts to ease humanitarian conditions inside Gaza. The former isn’t a very big deal; the latter is Israeli policy anyway. Throughout the conflict Israel kept the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel open, kept on supplying the people of Gaza with electricity, and kept up a flow of trucks into Gaza carrying food and other necessities. Hamas may have gotten some promises from Egypt to keep the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Sinai open more often and allow freer passage of people and goods. This would benefit Gazans, but how much it benefits Hamas depends in part on whether Rafah and other crossings are henceforth manned by Hamas’s enemy, the Palestinian Authority (see below on that rivalry). And it depends in part on whether, to what extent, and for how long Egypt keeps those promises. Even a betting man would not wager much on General Sisi’s tender mercies.
If the cease-fire lasts, meetings in Cairo will begin after one month of quiet to address the “blockade” of Gaza. This will be difficult, as the United States found out when we unsuccessfully addressed the same issues in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access that we negotiated between Israel and the PA. Today it will be even harder, because Hamas and not the PA controls Gaza. To take one example, concrete will be needed to rebuild damaged or destroyed structures in Gaza, but who will monitor its use so that Hamas cannot divert some to rebuild its attack tunnels? Who, on the ground in Gaza, will be reliable and honest and will resist Hamas threats? Posit that an EU mission will be offered, and think it through: Will the EU’s functionaries live in Gaza? Then how will they be immune from the creeping alliance with Hamas that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) so clearly displays? Will they instead live in Tel Aviv or Cairo and travel to Gaza each day to work? Is that practical?
The idea of a seaport in Gaza presents similar practical problems: Who will police it reliably and prevent its use by Hamas to import weapons from Iran? An airport in Gaza, another Hamas goal, should be dismissed out of hand. If countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland have trouble assuring airport security, an airport in Hamastan is an invitation to disaster. In fact there is a defunct airport in Gaza: It is called Yasser Arafat International and was opened by President Clinton in a gala ceremony in 1998. During the intifada in 2001, Israel “decommissioned” the place, and it remains a ruin, but its name is a reminder that terrorism and airfields cannot be allowed to mix.