Hamas evaded a punishing Israeli ground assault; gained diplomatic support from a new Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and Qatar; maintained its ties to Iran; developed an indirect relationship with the United States; triumphed in the Palestinian world over the ineffective leader of the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, and proclaimed a sense of legitimacy from standing up to Israel.
And yet, in the longer run, this “victory” will likely turn bitter and holds the seeds for its own destruction.
While Hamas, touting its martyrdom and survival in the war, claims victory, nearly all such terrorist victories are ultimately oxymorons. Militarily, Hamas, despite launching more than 1,500 rockets at Israel and occasionally reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was almost totally routed on the battlefield. Its rocketry killed six Israelis and wounded about 240 others and failed to destroy any Israeli military or civilian facility.
Instead, Israel, with the newly developed Iron Dome missile defense system, destroyed 84 percent of the incoming Hamas rockets likely to cause damage. The Israeli Air Force, Navy, and Artillery Corps hit more than 1,500 targets with overwhelmingly pinpoint precision, 10 times more than they took out in Operation Cast Lead four years ago.
Economically, the Israelis with their precise and massive strikes inflicted billions of dollars of damage on Hamas-related facilities. By contrast, Hamas evidently inflicted only slight damage on Israeli facilities. Politically, after the first bloom of the “victory” rapidly fades away, the bulk of Gazans are sure to be angry over the almost total failure again of their government to protect them from mass devastation, the deaths of at least 160 people, or even provide concrete bomb shelters or air raid sirens to warn of attack. This contrasts vividly with Israeli sirens and shelters.
Diplomatically, Hamas in the short term looks sure to gain. But its association with Iran still remains less than tight, especially with Hamas’s denunciation of Syria (Iran’s only major Arab ally).
Too, the arrival of several Arab and Middle Eastern diplomats in Gaza to show support for the Palestinian cause may prove less than it seems on the surface for Hamas. Turkey will have to walk back much of its lashing out at Israel as a “terrorist state” guilty of war crimes if it wishes to remain in good standing in NATO and keep the bulk of its trade with the West.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while sympathetic to Hamas, have more serious concerns – mainly the growing power of an Iran that loathes them and is rapidly closing in on nuclear weapons. Egypt, despite the common Muslim Brotherhood tie with Hamas, desperately needs billions of dollars of American and Western aid that would be jeopardized if Egypt swung fully behind the militant Hamas.
At the end of the day, a government or entity that wants to survive must meet its people’s psychological and tangible needs. The Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, even when combined with the more prosperous West Bank, still ranks as only 173 in the world in gross domestic product and 166 in exports. It cannot meet its people’s expectations of becoming a viable and recognized state unless it moves away from the alluring, but ultimately empty, confrontations with Israel. These confrontations only leave it more impoverished and keep it from taking the road to peace and global integration.
These “victories” will ultimately turn to ashes as Israel grows economically and militarily stronger and Hamas ever weaker.
Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.