Now that the fighting has ended the posturing begins to claim total victory in the latest round of fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. What were Hamas’ objectives in starting this fight? In an interview to Hamas’ magazine, Al-Risala, Mousa Abu Marzouq, Hamas’ second in command in Damascus discusses the Tahdiah [calm] and argues that “The [Tahdiah] had become ‘a ceasefire [in exchange for another] ceasefire,’ with no connection either to the crossings and [the goods] transported through them, or to the siege. Terminating it was [thus] a logical move.” (Marzouq, Mousa Abu, Al-Risala, December 12, 2008, excerpt found at MEMRI Special Dispatch – No. 2177). After the beginning of Operation Cast Lead Hamas then claimed a second objective: inflicting significant military casualties on the Israelis (Kramer, Martin, “Dig Hamas really win in Gaza?”, found at http://sandbox.blog-city.com/did_hamas_really_win_in_gaza.htm, January 28, 2009). Hamas claimed that “Israel was falling into ‘the trap that our fighters had prepared for its soldiers and tanks.'” and that “the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will be a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face.” (“Hamas: Gaza will become graveyard for Israeli troops“,Haaretz, January 4, 2009).

As noted elsewhere, Hamas basically collapsed, their fighters quickly shed their uniforms, donned civilian clothes and melted into the civilian population (even going so far as to fight from inside civilian enclaves to ensure that Israel would be accused of targeting civilians) (Kramer, Martin, “Did Hamas really win in Gaza?“, MartinKramer.org, January 28, 2009). As one Israeli soldier put it “We set a date with Hamas, and they didn’t come. They were afraid to come and face us, and they ran away,” (Friedman, Matti, “Despite its threats, Hamas put up light resistance,” Yahoo News, January 19, 2009). Most of Israel’s military casualties came from friendly fire.

The question now turns to whether Hamas or Israel won the fight. Both sides immediately claimed victory in the fight — Israel claiming that they had achieved their primary objective of limiting the number of rockets being fired on a daily basis into southern Israel (from a pre-war high of 70 down to 20 on the last day of the war) and Hamas, according to Rashid Khalidi, can claim victory since “all it has to do in order to proclaim victory is remain standing” (Khalidi, Rashid, “LRB Contributors React to Events in Gaza“, London Review of Books, January 15, 2009) — a rather low standard a victory. While Hamas may have emerged politically stronger in Gaza based on the premise that they survived the war they, as Hezballah in Lebanon discovered in 2006, are now the target of public resentment given the level of damage caused to homes and infrastructure in Gaza. Unlike Hezbollah who was able to dispatch teams to assess the damage of the 2006 war and to hand out money to rebuild homes and rebuild its militia Hamas has neither the finances nor the efficiency of Hezbollah and must overcome the obstacle that Gaza remains a closed area for all intents and purposes. (Ferziger, Jonathan, and Daniel Williams, “Israel, Hamas Both Claim Victory After Cease-Fire in Gaza Strip“, Bloomberg.com, January 19, 2009).

Based on traditional concepts of warfare it would is clear that Israel won a substantial victory on the battlefield as well as maintained firm control on the Gaza crossings (a key objective of Hamas at the outset of the fighting being that the crossings would be opened completely). Hamas proved that their “military” wing was anything but capable and relied solely on firing rockets into southern Israeli cities as their only means of resistance. In the end Israel achieved many of its initial, stated objectives for the operation and Hamas achieved nothing other than the scorn of the outside world for starting the fight and then using their own people as human shields.

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