Israel may win this war, but Hamas is not going to lose it.
They will suffer great losses, but once this is over, just as Israelis will support their newly elected prime minister, Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinians will also rally around Hamas, their democratically elected government -- and many Arabs will too.
The losers will be the Palestinians people themselves and moderate Arab governments whose leaders are facing domestic opposition to renounce relations with Israel and condemn their attacks.
As Palestinians living in Gaza fear the next Israeli attack, moderate Arab governments fear the fallout of this impolitic war will make fragile regional relationships all the more vulnerable.
Here in Beirut, gray skies that had sprayed spells of rain onto the city in recent days have now cleared offering planes landing at Rafik B. Hariri Airport greater visibility for touchdown. Gaza, only several hundred miles south of Beirut, will also see clearer skies in the next few days -- creating a window of opportunity for Israel to complete its aerial assault, launch an ambitious ground invasion and withdraw victoriously just in time for the national elections on February 6th.
All necessary preparations have been made. With tanks and troops massed on the border, the infrastructure of Hamas nearly destroyed, and over a million Palestinians couped up in windowless homes, the stage has been set. Though it remains to be seen whether Israel is bluffing or planning to go all in this hand.
News that Israel opened the Erez crossing on Friday morning to allow hundreds of foreigners to leave Gaza confirms they are going through the motions needed to implement a ground incursion. If Israeli tanks cross the border, the flames of anger sweeping across the Arab street will burn brighter, challenging the messy and muddled response from Arab governments.
The boldness of Israel's bombardment, whose weapons are provided by an annual $3 billion in U.S. aid, galvanizes and unifies the extremist sentiments among Arabs supporting the influence of religious radicals that are challenging more moderate, though venal governments across the region.
Israel may have intended to divide the Palestinian people between Fatah and Hamas, but it is the divisions across the entire Arab world that seem to be deepening.
As Palestinians living in Gaza fear that they may fall victim to the next Israeli attack, moderate Arabs governments across the region fear the fallout of this impolitic war will make fragile regional relationships only more vulnerable.
Egypt has taken the brunt of condemnations. Here in Beirut, protestors stormed the Egyptian Embassy on Sunday, throwing rocks at the offices before being fought off by police with tear gas and water hoses. The embassy, which is in the Beer Hassan area of Beirut, was sectioned off with barbed wire and many of the streets leading to the embassy were closed off.
Watch some footage below of the scene after protests at the Egyptian embassy.
Intentionally or not, Israel has incited millions across the Arab world to praise Syria and Iran, both dedicated to the Palestinian cause, and perhaps just as many to condemn Egypt and more moderate countries that are caught between their allegiance to the U.S. and their Arab neighbors.
A meeting between Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni on the 25th, just one day before Israel's attacks on Gaza has sparked more speculation of Egypt's connivance. Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, insists he told Livni not to attack Gaza, but having closed its border with Gaza in preparation for the attacks has left many Arabs skeptical.
In Egypt, Kuwait and Jordan parliamentary members are capitalizing on the the public's sympathies with the plight of Palestinians. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood specifically are challenging their respective government's positions as the death toll and destruction in Gaza rises.
Egypt is in a particularly precarious situation. Like Jordan, Egypt has political and peaceful relations with Israel, but the Egyptian people's support for Hamas seems to be burgeoning . Across the Arab world, Egyptian government offices have been one of few primary targets for angry protesters choosing to vent their vexations.
While most Arab regimes are vehemently condemning Israel for its excessive use of force, some, like Egypt, have blamed Hamas for not heeding warnings (a legitimate criticism since it was inevitable that Israel would respond to the rockets coming from Gaza by pounding Palestinians eventually). Others, by remaining relatively silent, or by indirectly criticizing Iran who are thought to be funding Hamas with millions of dollars, are viewed as traitors.
Though this conflict is about Israel and Palestine, and by extension the region's politics, it is also about religion. Moderate Sunni regimes would likely be pleased (whether publicly or not) to see Iranian-supported Hamas lose power.
Israel will win the psychological war. Though Israel's weapons can cause serious damage, it is their use of psychological warfare on Palestinians that is most destructive.
By isolating and restricting the amount of food, fuel and medical supplies reaching Gaza, Israel has been attacking the psyche and ability of Palestinians to sustain themselves, forcing them collectively into a state of panic, fear and desperation, facilitating their dependence on Hamas and nearly blind support for delusional defiance.
After many months of imposing economic stagnation and the systematic restriction on the movement of basic goods and people, Israel has demolished much of Gaza's already-crumbling infrastructure, filling millions of Palestinians with intense fear and anger.
Before launching an air-strike that killed Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan, Israel reportedly warned him that they would be attacking his home but he chose to stay and die with his family, making the ultimate sacrifice -- perhaps his intention was to show other families in Gaza that he apparently did not fear death.
Raanan Gissin, a former senior advisor to Prime Minister Sharon, said on Al Jazeera English yesterday that for the past ten or fifteen years asymmetrical warfare requires that 80% of military attacks are determined by psychological effects.
"This is asymmetrical warfare...and the military that you use is to achieve the psychological affect. You don't achieve it over night," he said. "This is a war of nerves and what we have achieved up to now has been quite effective."
While Israel allowed dozens of trucks to carry relief aid into Gaza, it has hardly been enough.
Moreover, Israel's foreign minister Tzipi Livni told a press pool in Paris yesterday, "We understand that while operating in Gaza Strip against Hamas we need to ease the life of the population," she said. "There is no humanitarian crisis...and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce."
The following interactive graphic titled Gaza in Numbers shows some statistics documenting the humanitarian crisis as it has worsened from 2007-2008.
Israel's ability to implement a blockade on a civilian population that deprives them of basic human rights and then justify this kind of military action would not be possible without Washington's protection and unwavering support.
We can expect very little from the Bush administration, but what happened to Obama's mantra of "change?"
Although Obama has said that there is only one President at a time, he has spoken frequently and at length about the state of America's economy and international incidents such as the terror attacks in Mumbai last month. It is understandable that Americans are more concerned with their day to day lives such as paying the bills, paying the rent, and finding health care, but by taking the convenient position of staying out of it until Israel's attack take their course, President-elect Obama isn't representing change or leadership.
Speaking of leaders, Ehud Barak and Tzipi ivni, both up for prime minister in Israel's national elections just one month from now are hoping to appear tougher than Benjamin Netanyahu from the Likud Party, which has been leading in the polls. Israel's leaders must be banking on finally eliminating Hamas from power since the war has come just before Israeli elections and the inauguration of an American President who has spoken publicly about his support for Israel, but who still raises doubts among leaders in the Knesset.
Follow Ahmed Shihab-Eldin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hamoods