While the Israeli public is divided on whether Israel won in Gaza, the IDF is fairly confident that Operation Protective Edge has managed to bring Hamas to its knees diplomatically, and significantly reduce its capabilities militarily.
Hamas delegates have arrived in Cairo for ceasefire negotiations with limited ability to affect the talks’ outcome, overpowered by the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. Hamas’s benefactors, Qatar and Turkey, have minimal impact on the process, senior Israelis believe.
The sense of victory expressed by senior IDF officers in closed briefings, is being stated quite openly by field commanders. Hamas, deputy commander of the Nahal Brigade Ori Shechter told Army Radio Wednesday morning, “crawled to Egypt” to beg for a ceasefire. He lauded Operation Protective Edge as an “overwhelming defeat for Hamas.”
“The IDF won big time in Gaza,” he said, predicting four or five years of quiet. “Stop saying we lost. We won.”
True, Hamas has had a number of operational successes, such as managing to reach Israeli cities with longer-range rockets than before, and penetrating the country multiple times through underground tunnels, sometimes with lethal consequences. But the Islamist movement has sorely failed in inflicting the level of damage it had planned, officials said.
As Israeli forces completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Hamas finds itself with one-third the number of rockets it had before the operation and its rocket production capabilities significantly depleted. With the import of raw materials for the manufacture of rockets sharply reduced due to Egyptian anti-tunnel activity, the IDF believes Hamas will find it increasingly difficult to replenish its arsenal.
Hamas’s terror tunnel industry, which sucked 40 percent of the movement’s budget over the past few years, has been completely destroyed, as far as IDF intelligence knows. The army will not swear to the fact that it didn’t miss a tunnel or two, but believes those can be demolished in the future, if need be.
The IDF is working hard on refuting the common international claim of disproportionate civilian losses on the Palestinian side. It has managed to identify by name one-third of the victims reported by the Palestinian Health Ministry as terror operatives belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Still reviewing the numbers, the Israeli army believes that between 40 and 50 percent of the victims were militants, not civilians.
In fact, trying to mask the extent of damage to its fighting body, Hamas is hiding the names of many of its men killed in action, especially members of the special forces, the IDF believes. It has even moved the bodies of casualties to the Shejaiya area east of Gaza, which sustained heavy shelling, pretending its men were killed there.
Israel believes that Hamas — weakened militarily and isolated internationally — has lowered its expectations ahead of the ceasefire talks in Cairo. It has, for instance, forgone previous demands for the construction of a seaport and an airport as conditions for calm.
Egypt, for its part, has made clear that it would not discuss the opening of the Rafah crossing as part of the ceasefire. Senior Egyptian sources told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat on Wednesday that while Egypt is “open to concessions at Rafah crossing,” those will not be discussed at present, but only bilaterally — at a later stage — between the Egyptian government and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
According to the daily, Egypt is insisting the PA forces subordinate to Abbas resume control of the entire 14-kilometer (8.7 mile) border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.