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The Gaza Trap

TEL AVIV – Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against Hamas in Gaza is the kind of asymmetrical warfare that has characterized nearly all Middle East conflicts in recent years. Victories in such wars are always elusive.

Whatever the achievements of Israel’s superior army and its anti-missile systems, and however appalling the devastation of Gaza, Hamas will survive, if only because Israel wants it to. The alternative – jihadist anarchy that would turn Gaza into a Palestinian Somalia – is simply too unbearable to contemplate.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s boastful rhetoric cannot hide the fact that Hamas’s military power has been dealt a devastating blow. But, unless Israel is ready to pay an exceptionally high price in terms of its international standing by occupying Gaza and destroying its entire military hierarchy and arsenal, Hamas can still claim victory, having survived yet another onslaught by Israel’s colossal military machine.

The superior power in an asymmetrical conflict always has a problem defining its objectives. In this case, Israel aspires to achieve “quiet” with few enough Palestinian civilian casualties to minimize international criticism. But the failure to achieve this goal is precisely where the superior power is defeated in asymmetrical conflicts. Moreover, “quiet” is not a strategic goal; nor is Israel’s way of pursuing it – a war every two or three years – particularly convincing.