Why Hamas (most of all) and Netanyahu (for now) are the winners of this mini-war

The losers, needless to say, are the citizens of Gaza and Israel, as the Islamist terror group makes strategic gains beyond even its own expectations

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

A Muslim worshipper wears a Hamas flag during a protest against Israel following Friday prayers near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
A Muslim worshipper wears a Hamas flag during a protest against Israel following Friday prayers near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

After 11 days of bitter fighting between Hamas and Israel, with more than 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead, hundreds injured and thousands of Gazans having lost their homes, Hamas and the Israeli government are returning almost precisely to where they were before the start of this round of conflict.

Israel from Friday will allow goods into the Gaza Strip, while Hamas will apparently impose the ceasefire, for now, on all the various terror groups. The era which began a decade ago, in which the government of Israel permits the transfer of funds and other concessions worth billions to ease Hamas’s rule, and in which Hamas in return keeps things calm between rounds of conflict, remains in place.

The only uncertain factor is how long this ceasefire will hold. And given the results of this mini-war, it seems unlikely it will last five months, never mind the five years some Israeli generals have said would represent a success.

A picture taken on May 20, 2021, from the northern Israeli town of Metula near the border with Lebanon, where the Israeli flag waves, shows people raising Palestinian, Lebanese and Iran-backed Hezbollah flags on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Kfarkila. (Jalaa Marey / AFP)

While both sides can claim certain achievements and certain failures, the big winners are Hamas, in the medium term, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the short term.

Netanyahu for the simple reason that this round of conflict leaves him safely ensconced in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street.

And Hamas because it is perceived in the Arab world and in the Palestinian sphere, though rather less when it comes to Gaza itself, as the regional victor.

Police officers from Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group near a destroyed residential building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes after rocket fire from Gaza, in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP/Adel Hana)

And the big losers? They, of course, are the citizens of Gaza and of Israel — southern Israel and all the way up to Tel Aviv and beyond.

The IDF can cite significant tactical achievements — including badly damaging Hamas’s “metro” tunnel network, and the Gaza terror group’s rocket production facilities. But the IDF did not manage to significantly reduce the number of rocket launches, nor did it manage to hit the most senior Hamas leaders, who remain unharmed. The number of Hamas operatives killed in this round was also relatively low. Most survived the aerial bombardment inflicted by the Air Force.

The destroyed interior of a house in Ashkelon hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, on May 20, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

On a tactical level, Hamas did not register significant gains. Most, though not all, of its rockets were intercepted or missed their mark, and its efforts to carry out other, still more devastating attacks, failed. Yet Hamas, which began this mini-war with its May 10 barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem, nonetheless succeeded beyond even its own expectations at the strategic level.

It prompted the opening of new fronts in the conflict — the firing of rockets from Lebanon; riots in the West Bank; even a few missiles from Syria. Moreover, Hamas managed to create the illusion around the world that Israel was the aggressor that had initiated the fighting. In fact, Hamas started it with one clear goal: to badly hurt Fatah and the Palestinian Authority; the Israelis in this instance were a secondary target.

Demonstrators march in support of Palestine in midtown Manhattan, New York City on May 18, 2021. (Angela Weiss / AFP)

But when Palestinians or Muslims attack Jews in New York and Los Angeles, and when mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel go up in flames, the heads of Hamas can certainly celebrate. As for the destroyed houses, the piles of rubble in the center of Gaza City, they know that Qatari money will help finance reconstruction, and that the Netanyahu government will allow that money to continue to flow.

This brings us to the failure exemplified by this round of conflict — an ongoing failure whose consequences continue to grow.

The misguided strategy of the Netanyahu government, followed for a decade, has turned a terrorist group into a military monster which now aspires to compete with Hezbollah and is managing to embarrass Israel time after time. This counterproductive, illogical policy works to weaken Fatah and the Palestinian Authority and keep Hamas intact, for political reasons — so that it can be claimed there is no viable partner for negotiations.

Israel prevented the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority in order to pressurize the PA to stop paying stipends to the families of terrorists and salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons, and rightly so. But at the same time, it continues to permit the monthly transfer to Gaza of $30 million in cash from Qatar, even though it always knew there was a high likelihood that some of this money would reach the Hamas military wing. The same applies to dual-use goods. The cement that Israel has allowed into Gaza is plainly used, among other purposes, to build Hamas’s tunnels.

A pro-Israel demonstration at the Koekamp, Netherlands, on May 20, 2021 (Sem van der Wal / ANP / AFP)

From a political point of view, Hamas’s Mohammad Deif and the Hamas military wing, in initiating this round of conflict, saved Netanyahu from being ousted by the so-called “change bloc” government that was taking shape.

So where do things go from here? It’s hard to be certain, but a senior Hamas source interviewed by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper noted that “the movement is closely monitoring the enemy’s moves in Jerusalem and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood [where several Palestinian families are facing eviction]… and it has imposed an equation that involves the bombing of the Israeli entity should residents of the area be evicted.”

Mourners march during the funeral of Mohammad Kiwan, 17, who succumbed to his wounds May 20, 2021, after being shot during confrontations with Israeli security forces last week, in the mostly Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

That kind of statement would appear to suggest that Hamas’s appetite has not been sated. And it may well be the case that in the wake of this or that Israeli action in Jerusalem, Hamas will once again feel the inclination to fire off rockets or allow one of the other Gaza terror organizations to do so. That’s the new, old, deteriorating reality into which we are now entering, as yet another ceasefire comes into effect.

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