War with no clear objective
By: Hassan Barari
Casting aside all arguments advanced by either the Palestinians or the Israelis, the fact remains that Israel’s current war in Gaza is not the first and will most likely not be the last. Both sides are hostage to events — caused by the impasse in the peace process — rather than being driven by a strategy to put an end to the conflict.
Seen in this way, the latest round of fighting is hardly surprising. The persistence of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land has been the root cause for the repetition of such military clashes. The abduction and killing of three Israelis students caused a stir in Israel. The Israeli government accused Hamas of being behind the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers and Hamas denied having any role in that. To add fire to the fuel, some extremists in Israel brutally murdered a Palestinian boy in Jerusalem thus setting off huge demonstrations in the West Bank.
Israel held Hamas accountable for the current round of fighting although Hamas had nothing to do with either the killing of the Israeli boys or the firing of rockets from Gaza by Islamic Jihad. But Israel is taking a huge risk by targeting Hamas in Gaza. A defeat for Hamas in Gaza means that Gaza may become ungovernable and this will hardly benefit Israel. Now Hamas is facing a dilemma. On one hand, Hamas could not afford to be seen as a player who enforces order in Gaza for Israel but on the other hand, Islamic Jihad’s behavior is also a challenge to Hamas authority in Gaza. The ebb and flow of confrontation between Hamas and Israel led to the same outcome: A mediated truce and weakening of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Like the previous rounds of fighting between Hamas and Israel, this current one puts a further political strain on Abbas. Not a while ago, Abbas had signed a unity agreement with Hamas and that agreement favored Fatah. It was an agreement that exhibited the weakness of Hamas in the first place. Now, with the continuation of fighting, Abbas is widely seen as someone who collaborates with the Israelis rather than defending his own people. Hence, the end of the current war may lead to a new balance of powers between Hamas and Fatah and the former may emerge stronger than before.
The bottom line is that neither Israel nor Hamas has a list of attainable objectives. For instance, Israel launched airstrikes against Hamas hoping that this will restore calm. But as we can see these days, Israel is far from achieving this goal. Indeed, many Israelis are contemplating the idea of sending troops to Gaza. If this is to take place, then Israel will risk international condemnation. Also, it is in the best interest of Israel to maintain a deterred weak yet effective Hamas than to topple Hamas. On the other hand, it seems that Hamas did not want this confrontation in the first place; other forces in Gaza have dragged it into the conflict.
In war and in peace, a player should have measureable and deliverable objectives. The sad reality is that neither side has such objective. I disagree with many analysts who say that Israel is attacking Gaza as a part of a grand strategy. In fact, Netanyahu had to respond in such a way due to internal political dynamics that led to a sort of outbidding by different political players.
The irony is that no one seems to be able to learn from previous lessons. Everyone is talking about the symptoms of the conflict. But they rarely address the root cause of the every now and then eruption of military clashes. The Egyptians may mediate a way out of the current crisis, but who would guarantee that this conflict would not come to the surface again! The only guarantee is to bring an end to the Israeli occupation and help the Palestinians build a democratic state. Short of doing this, chances are high that Palestinians will get radicalized thus creating a different and more lethal challenge.