ANALYSIS-Victory elusive for both Israel and Hamas - Israel is in the sea surrounded by Muslims. Israel can not win in a long run.
- From: rst0wxyz <rst0wxyz@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 08:18:42 -0800 (PST)
ANALYSIS-Victory elusive for both Israel and Hamas
By Luke Baker
JERUSALEM, Jan 11 (Reuters) - When the firing eventually stops in the
Gaza Strip, the question of "who won?" will hang heavily over the
death and destruction. Neither Israel nor Hamas will be able to answer
it with any certainty or immediacy.
Israel says it launched its offensive on Dec. 27 to put a stop once
and for all to Hamas's firing of rockets and mortars over the border
into southern Israeli towns and cities. That objective, at least, has
been stated very clearly.
Yet after two weeks of fighting, the rockets -- more than 4,000 of
which have been fired since 2001 -- are still coming, even if in far
fewer numbers than two weeks ago. Israel believes the Palestinians are
still capable of firing 200 rockets a day.
A ceasefire in which Hamas agrees to halt rocket fire might well be
struck, but the chance of it holding forever, as Israel would like, is
next to nil, and there are other militant groups in Gaza which could
violate the deal, reigniting the conflict.
Israel also wants a "mechanism" to stop arms smuggling into Gaza from
Egypt and thus starve Hamas of rocket materiel. But it is unclear what
this would entail, not least as Cairo has balked at calls for
international forces on its side of the frontier. That is why some
Israeli leaders argue the operation needs to go much further and seek
to destroy Hamas completely, killing off its leadership and causing so
much hardship in Gaza that the population turns against the Islamists
they elected in 2006.
Yet eradicating Hamas is a much tougher objective and one that Israel
is unlikely to achieve in the time left before it has to give in to
international pressure and halt operations.
So if Israel can't wipe out Hamas or completely halt rocket fire, what
will it be able to show for weeks of fighting in which some 850
Palestinians and 13 Israelis have died, and international condemnation
has been heaped on the Jewish state?
While acknowledging Israel's need to tackle the rocket threat from
Hamas, U.S. security analyst Anthony Cordesman argues that its
strategy could backfire.
"It is far from clear that the tactical gains are worth the political
and strategic cost to Israel," he wrote in commentary for the Center
for Strategic and International Studies.
"Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a
clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve?
"Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it
defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel's actions seriously damage the
U.S. position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate
Arab regimes and voices?
"To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes," he wrote.
Israel believes it has succeeded in reducing Hamas's ability to fire
rockets, proved its "deterrence" capability, killed many Hamas
commanders and perhaps made more Palestinians in Gaza question the
wisdom of the strict Islamist group's behaviour.
All of which, combined with the possibility that Hamas might
eventually submit to a ceasefire, appears to be giving Israeli
military and political leaders the reassurances to carry on.
Israeli Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said on Sunday: "We have
scored achievements no one dreamed of two weeks ago.
"As for the blow to Hamas, they still don't understand what they've
sustained. They'll understand better when they emerge."
So far Israel's Jewish majority is wholeheartedly behind the
leadership, but the concept of victory -- so desperately sought after
the inconclusive 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and
so necessary for national pride -- remains distant.
Likewise, Hamas can hardly declare itself an outright winner, either
now or once the guns have fallen silent.
As Hezbollah did after its 34-day war with Israel, Hamas may well cast
itself as the underdog that held off the might of the hi-tech, U.S.-
sponsored Israeli army, and draw praise for that.
But for all those Palestinians in Gaza who will feel pride at the
resistance Hamas put up, others will gaze at the ruined buildings and
freshly dug graves and wonder if it was worth it.
When the Palestinians held legislative elections in early 2006, Hamas
defeated its long-dominant rival Fatah.
Fatah was tainted by corruption and failure to meet the needs of the
3.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas, on the
other hand, was widely regarded for charity work and held in popular
esteem for its fiery probity and piety.
Hamas had also dented Israeli security with sprees of suicide
bombings. Now its fighters are better known for firing rockets -- both
homemade and imported -- into the Jewish state.
President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader whose writ extends only to
the West Bank since Hamas routed his forces in Gaza in 2007, has
promised parliamentary and presidential elections -- but Hamas no
longer accepts his legitimacy and it is not clear when Gazans will
have another chance to elect their leaders.
Israel and the West want Palestinians to shun Hamas, with its ultimate
goal of destroying Israel, and rally round Abbas and "moderates" ready
to negotiate peace -- even though past diplomacy has brought
Palestinians no closer to statehood.
Some allies, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy who is trying
to broker a ceasefire, have told Israel it risks weakening Abbas in
favour of radicals like Hamas by fighting.
As Hamas's leader in exile Khaled Meshaal told Israelis on Saturday:
"You have created resistance in every household."
Expect both sides to claim victory when the war ends. Whoever is
deemed the winner, civilians will have paid the price. (Editing by
Alastair Macdonald and Michael Roddy)
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