Monday, August 18, 2014
Zalman Shoval - Hamas: Dead man walking
"Dead Man Walking" is a movie about a man on death row. It also describes the situation Hamas is in: The execution has been delayed, but not commuted. It's still "walking," hoping that diplomatic pressure on Israel and threats of resumed violence will save it.
But last Wednesday, when the leaders of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad thought that the IDF was returning to Gaza in full force, they realized that the game was lost and folded. Islamic Jihad deputy head Ziad Nahala actually expressed this clearly, saying, "The war is behind us. There's no choice -- we have to reach an agreement."
It seems there is some disagreement within Hamas. While the battered leadership in the Gaza Strip is leaning toward a long-term truce, political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in his hotel suite in Doha and speaker Osama Hamadan in Beirut are still doing their best to throw a wrench into the negotiations.
This isn't the time for a final summation, but it can already be said that most of Israel's security goals in Operation Protective Edge were achieved, or will be: The attack tunnels were destroyed and rocket attacks on Israel have failed, and that failure will have clear ramifications not only on Hamas' capabilities but also in terms of deterring possible plans of other terrorist entities in the region. Moreover, the rocket fire only strengthened Israel's social and national fortitude instead of breaking it.
Another result: Instead of Hamas winning the support of the Arab world, it was mostly snubbed. And possibly most important when looking ahead, the residents of Gaza themselves have begun to express doubts, sometimes out loud and even to foreign journalists, about their fate under the Hamas regime. Besides all this, and particularly in light of the improvement in Hamas fighters' operations, we should of course note the excellence and superiority at all levels of the IDF: soldiers and officers, regular service and reservists, religious and secular.
But the Gaza Strip still hasn't been demilitarized, and Israel has to make do with evasive references to that issue. We can hope that oversight of the border crossings in cooperation with an international presence and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces can prevent, to some extent, the terrorists from replenishing their weapons arsenal. But that's not enough, and Israel should continue to demand full demilitarization as a precondition for any inclusive deal about other matters, including rehabilitating Gaza.
If it is adopted, the agreement currently in the works will leave Hamas without significant gains, but the group will certainly proclaim victory, as the Arab side does in every war, even when it's clear to everyone that it was beaten. It won't get an air or sea port either, and as far as removing the "blockade" (which was only ever partial and mainly focused on preventing weapons smuggling), Israel will insist -- hopefully with backing from the European Union and the U.S. -- that the existing limitations remain in effect.
If Hamas and Islamic Jihad gained anything -- and they did, especially in the diplomatic and international public relations arena -- it was because television shows the results, or the destruction and the casualties, not the reasons that led to the war and brought such a bitter fate on the heads of the residents of Gaza.
The anti-Semitic reflex in parts of the Western world, from the Right and in recent years mainly from the Left, also helped Hamas. So did the unilateral anti-Israel stance of the U.N., from the secretary general on down and the needless tension between Israel and the American administration, which resulted among other things from the fact that Washington still doesn't understand that Israel's war on Hamas and Islamic Jihad is part of the bigger struggle of the free world against the jihadism of ISIS, al-Qaida, and other Islamist forces that threaten America's security and values.
However, our reasoning is not necessarily that of Hamas, and we cannot rule out the possibility that the kamikaze mentality will lead it, despite some internal calls, to return to violence. In that case, Israel's answer must be clear: We gave diplomacy and negotiations a chance -- this time our response will be crushing.