The conviction that the war enhanced Hamas’s prestige seems largely premised on the belief that Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi played a major role in sponsoring the ceasefire. The thinking goes something like this, since Morsi is credited with brokering the deal, there must have been a deal for him to broker. Therefore, since it was a deal, and not just a return to the status quo with dead Hamas commanders and a depleted arsenal, there has got to be something in the deal for Hamas.
The Obama administration has overstated Morsi’s part as mediator, but for a very good reason: It wants to give him a stake not only in helping to keep the peace but also in staying under the American security umbrella. The administration sought to show Morsi that his long-term interests would not be well served by siding with Hamas—whose actions in fact exposed Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government to ridicule from rivals like Iran for not standing with Hamas and taking up arms against Israel. So, in order to convince Morsi to do the right thing, to follow the path of Mubarak and Sadat before him and take the American aid package and stay out of war with Israel, the White House threw rose petals at Morsi, telling all the world that he was instrumental in brokering the deal.
However, Morsi had nothing to do with it. In terms of the actual negotiations, they went through intelligence channels, just as they did under Mubarak, when then head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate Omar Suleiman mediated between Hamas and Israel. But much more to the point, there was no message for any Egyptian to convey to Hamas except for Israel’s terms—which was nothing but a return to the status quo, absent significant Hamas assets. In other words, Morsi did not mediate or sponsor the deal, because there was no deal.
It’s true that Israel didn’t get anything out of the deal either, but the war ended with material gains for Israel and material losses—men and arms—for its opponent. Sure, Hamas achieved a sort of symbolic victory by firing rockets into Israel up until the very moment that the ceasefire went into effect. But compare that to the billions of dollars that are likely to pour into Israel’s anti-missile defense industry on account of Iron Dome’s success. Symbolic victories don’t win wars, men and weapons do.
And yet even some Israelis think Israel lost. A few Israeli officials are criticizing the operation for what seem like purely political reasons. For instance, Shaul Mofaz appeared to be positioning Kadima, the party he now leads, for Israel’s January elections when he complained that “The goals of his operation were not reached…We should not have stopped at this stage. Hamas got stronger and we did not gain deterrence.”
And yet it’s true that Mofaz seems to speak for a significant segment of Israeli opinion disappointed in the outcome. Among others, there are Israeli reservists, like this group that spelled out “Bibi Loser,” who were apparently frustrated that they were not sent in to Gaza to further weaken or destroy Hamas. As Benjamin Kerstein wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “Rather than invade Gaza on the ground, uproot its terrorist infrastructure, and place Israel in an excellent position to dictate terms for its withdrawal, [Netanyahu] relied on air power, just as his predecessors did in the Second Lebanon War, and got the same results.”
However, Israel has enjoyed more than six years of quiet on its northern border with Lebanon. If Netanyahu gets the same results on Israel’s southern frontier—in a quarter of the time that Israel spent fighting Hezbollah in the Second Lebanon War and without the mismanaged ground operation that sent dozens of IDF troops to their death days before the 2006 ceasefire—then Operation Pillar of Defense will count as an unqualified success.