Photo: Reuters
IDF forces leave Gaza. 'Maybe our expectations are too high'
Photo: Reuters
Nahum Barnea

In some wars, both sides lose

Analysis: Despite its huge military advantage, advanced intelligence and remarkable protection means, it may be difficult for the IDF to subdue several thousand terror fighters.

The IDF forces disappeared from the assembly areas in the Gaza vicinity in a flash, leaving behind tons of dust and mountains of toilet paper. They left something else behind, something immeasurable: A bitter feeling of disappointment.



In this case, the disappointment is shared by both the fighters who went into Gaza and the residents of southern Israel. Both were hoping for an unequivocal ending, for an achievement which would erase the threat on the other side of the border once and for all.


This may happen in the future, mainly thanks to the revolution in Egypt and perhaps thanks to the operation, but no one can guarantee that it will happen.


In the past eight years we have experienced four military operations against terror organizations: The 2006 Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. They were all characterized by a big gap between the expectations and the results.


The sequence of disappointments is troubling. It's possible that despite the IDF's huge military advantage, despite the fact that it operates unhindered from the air and from the sea, despite its advanced intelligence and remarkable protection means, it finds it difficult to subdue several thousand terror fighters.


Or maybe our expectations are too high. It's Gaza, it's the IDF, it's what we know how to do.


Both sides' loss and profit balance is complicated. If the Military Intelligence Directorate's estimate is true, Hamas was dragged into this war against its will. The tunnel network it built was not ready for action. The rocket arsenal was defeated by the Iron Dome system. The few attempts to attack beyond the border produced poor results.


But Hamas demonstrated its stamina and spirit of combat. None of its leaders were hurt in the war and it did not lose its rule of Gaza. These are significant achievements in a conflict with a strong and modern army, which sent all its front-line units to the battle.


The members of Hamas' Qatari wing are now sitting in Cairo and talking to Israel through two brokering systems: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' politicians and the Egyptian intelligence's generals.


Their main demands are exaggerated: They are demanding, in practice, that the siege on Gaza will be lifted. In terms of the Israeli policy until the operation, the joint Hamas and Palestinian Authority delegation is like a terror attack, and lifting the siege is suicide.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's approach changed during the operation. Now Israel is willing to accept, maybe even cooperate with, a Palestinian government which includes Hamas.


An international effort is underway to return the PA to Gaza. Hamas is meant to be Abbas' religious branch: It will, allegedly, relinquish its control of Gaza and receive a foothold in the West Bank in return. And most importantly, it will curb its military activity.


The Israeli government is finding it difficult to believe in this utopian vision, but understands that this is not the time to thwart the effort. It is concerned, of course, that the opposite will happen: The PA will be in charge of Gaza but will not control it, and Hamas will openly resume its activities in the West Bank.


Abbas, seemingly, stands to gain the most. Everyone – from Qatar, through Washington and Cairo, to Jerusalem – agrees that he is the solution. But most Palestinians see him as nothing more than a collaborator.


"In the West Bank, we are dead meet," one of Abbas' associates said this week. "If we return to Gaza on the IDF's spears, even my children will call me a traitor."


For the first time since the War of Independence, the heart of the State of Israel turned into a front: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened to target it in 2006 and failed to follow through; Hamas threatened and succeeded, with daily barrages.


Not only the Tel Aviv metropolitan area was exposed, but also a series of strategic targets. Hamas knew how to pick.


This exposure should concern us. The Iron Dome's success can help calm us down. If it were not for the Iron Dome, there would have been no escape from occupying the Strip, with all that it entails.


The way the operation was conducted on the Israeli side raised many questions. The government was dragged into Gaza. It pursued a ceasefire immediately after the first days of airstrikes. The ground invasion decision was not part of the plan. It was the result of Hamas' infiltration through a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa.


The tunnels were a real threat to the 50,000 Israelis living in kibbutzim and moshavim near the border. As one of them members of Kibbutz Be'eri said to me during the operation, "We thought that the disengagement had created a border between us and Gaza. The tunnels erased the border."


But the tunnels did not constitute a strategic, existential threat. Their importance was inflated for marketing reasons. Their detonation revoked Hamas of an asset, but did not destroy it.


The minority in the government which sought to occupy Gaza found it difficult to understand the logic in a war over the tunnels: Instead of breaking through or flanking Hamas' fortified lineup, the IDF is wearing out its soldiers by attacking every fortified post on the frontline. This is not the way to wage a war, one of the ministers argued.


Naturally, the end of the fighting marks the beginning of the wars of the Jews. Ministers are putting the responsibility on the IDF, describing Netanyahu as a person who toed the line set by the army.


The cabinet was allegedly presented with all the possible options. But the occupation of Gaza was described in exaggerated terms – the IDF's 20 fallen soldiers in Saja'iyya times 30 or 40 – and the cabinet panicked and obeyed.


The Israeli government entered the operation without a strategic plan and emerged from it without a strategic plan. Just like it made sure not to initiate anything in the years between the wars, it made sure not to initiate anything during the fighting. It went with the flow.


There is an abysmal gap between military conflicts and sports competitions. In sports, there is a winner and there is a loser. In war, it's not always like that. There are wars in which both sides lose.


פרסום ראשון: 08.07.14, 00:22
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