Why is the Hamas leadership determined to engage in a war that it has as much chance of winning as a fly has against an elephant? To really understand what its leaders are thinking, it helps to know the Arabic term "mumanaa," which freely translates as a "no win-no win situation." For years, the strategy of Hamas (and of Hezbollah, for that matter) hasn’t been based on achieving a Palestinian victory. Rather, it is focused on preventing Israel from winning.
For this mumanaa to be complete, Hamas takes care to maintain a residual military capacity, which will allow it to have the last word, and prevent Israel from gaining a decisive victory. In other words, the movement’s leaders will do everything within their power to ensure that Gaza fires off the last rockets before a cease-fire is declared. If Israel decides to invade Gaza, Hamas will force it to engage in grueling skirmishes in densely populated areas, in what can best be defined as a mini “war of attrition.” After all, Hamas is fully aware that a single photo of an Israeli soldier’s funeral is worth more than a thousand words about “victory.”
The result is an asymmetrical struggle between an organization that has nothing to lose and a desperate population, versus a country without enough room on the page to list all of its losses. Below is just a partial tally of Israel’s losses in this conflict:
- Every rocket that lands in Gush Dan (metropolitan Tel Aviv) underscores the impotence of Israel’s military might in dealing with this situation. Every photo of Jews running for their lives to shelters highlights inadequacies in the strength of the fourth-most powerful army in the world. Every time a “blue-and-white” (colors of the Israeli flag) missile cuts short the life of a Palestinian child, dozens if not hundreds of newly born cousins in the occupied territories will be given the name of that child. They will imbibe a desire to avenge him with their mothers’ milk. Every day that this happens, the Palestinian peace camp loses another member.
- Harsh images from Gaza prevent the Israeli propaganda machine from obtaining a diplomatic “victory photo.” The international community, headed by the United States, refused to get excited by the siren that Israel UN Ambassador Ron Prosor played to the UN General Assembly, a sound that sends hundreds of thousands of Israeli children running to their shelters in terror. Thanks to the air-defense Iron Dome system and Israel’s good luck, not a single Israeli has been killed by all the rocket fire. Meanwhile, what was probably going through the heads of many of the people listening to Prosor’s speech was that the over a hundred fatalities and 900 injured Palestinians in the Gaza Strip at that moment (more than 160 fatalities now and more than a thousand injured) had no sirens and no shelters to protect them from the bombs that the IDF’s F-16 fighter jets dropped on their homes.
- World leaders are familiar with the intricacies of international law and the situation in the Gaza Strip. According to international law, as long as Israel controls Gaza’s air and maritime space, a buffer zone within the Gaza Strip, border crossings for both people and goods to and from Gaza, and Gaza’s population registry, it has the responsibility of ensuring that the 1.6 million people of Gaza can lead a normal life. And the international community also knows that because of a policy of collective punishment that has been in place for years, the people of Gaza have long suffered from power outages that, according to the Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, last about 12 hours a day. Israel does not hide the fact that it severely restricts the flow of what it calls “dual purpose” merchandise into Gaza, including building materials. The sale of building materials to the private sector in Gaza has been banned entirely for the past nine months. This decision has caused a sharp rise in unemployment, now at 41% (58% for ages 15-29). Furthermore, over 70% of Gaza’s population receives humanitarian aid. Is that not an alarm siren in its own right?
- Reports on destruction and deaths in Gaza hamper Israelis’ attempts to celebrate the transformation of Hamas from an enemy of Israel favored by Egypt into the common enemy of Cairo and Jerusalem. The same Egyptian authorities that declared war on Hamas not too long ago have been forced to climb off their high horse and place the onus of responsibility for stopping the bloodshed squarely on Israel’s shoulders. Huge crowds of Egyptians demonstrated outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, demanding that the ambassador be expelled. Israel’s response is being portrayed in both the Arab and international media as being totally disproportionate, forcing even the Jordanian government to contend with stubborn protests against its peaceful relationship with Israel.
- Hamas can also take credit for causing significant financial damage to Israel. Calling up tens of thousands of reservists, operating the Iron Dome system and approving additional flight hours for the air force will force Israeli taxpayers to increase their outlays on defense expenses. At the same time, the sound of wailing sirens reaches hundreds of thousands of tourists, who are hardly eager to spend their vacation in a bomb shelter. Entertainment venues, restaurants and shops are all suffering heavy losses, which will ultimately lead to a decline in the country’s tax revenue.
If there is one thing that the Israeli government can chalk up as a major victory, it is the battle over the media and Israeli public opinion. People in Israel and around the world constantly hear the claim, “No country would have acted any differently if its citizens were subjected to a barrage of missile fire night and day.” How true! If the armies of neighboring countries like Egypt, Jordan or Syria had bombed Israel’s cities, it wouldn’t be Israel’s “right” to respond with all-out war — it would be Israel’s duty. On the other hand, the number of times that news commentators remind us (or remember, for that matter) that rockets fired at Israel originate in territories that Israel occupies can be counted on one hand.
During hundreds of hours of discussion of this war on radio and television alike, the Israeli public has not heard that the Oslo Accord determines that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute a single Palestinian political entity, just like the Negev and the Galilee are part of a single Israeli entity. It is obvious to Israelis that the Jewish residents of the Galilee identify with the suffering of their Jewish brothers and sisters in the Negev. But when the Palestinian residents of the Galilee identify with their brothers and sisters in Gaza, they are considered traitors.
In the same spirit of thinking, Israeli citizens — and not just the settlers — empathized with the families of the three teens who met such a brutal death solely because they were Jews. They felt rage at the people, from whom the murderers emerged. But Israelis don’t always grasp that Palestinians in Gaza empathize with the family of the boy burned alive solely because he was an Arab. And again, Israelis sometimes don’t get that the Palestinians are furious at the people from whom the murderers sprung.
The Israeli public hardly heard anything of the political context of the crisis. On the eve of the last crisis, Hamas was forced to follow Fatah’s lead and grant Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the authority to negotiate on the basis of the Arab League’s peace initiative. Were it not for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze the settlements during the negotiations and to translate his announcement that he supports a two-state solution into a viable map, Hamas would be a political deadweight. A diplomatic arrangement can still pull public support out from under it and expose it as serving non-Palestinian interests. At the same time, diplomatic progress would grant the Israeli military greater freedom of action by providing it with Arab and international legitimacy.
How unfortunate then that once again Israel is falling into the trap set for it by Hamas and allowing it to exit the conflict with a stalemate. That result is considered a resounding victory by the path of violence over the path of peace.