It is obvious who is losing the Gaza war. But who is winning?
First the losers. Hamas is losing. It made the mistake of believing its own propaganda about Israelis having lost the determination to fight for their state. For some reason, Hamas decided that the veterans of 1948, 1967, and 1973 had produced cowardly, unpatriotic, and inept descendants. Big mistake.
Hamas is the mouse that roared. Despite all the stored up munitions and its supposedly well-trained fighters, it has not dented the IDF. Israel appears to have a free hand to do whatever it wants in Gaza; only world public opinion seems capable of constraining its actions. And possibly the United Nations Security Council which, with the United States refusing to use its veto on Israel's behalf, passed Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate ceasefire.
But the biggest loser of all is not Hamas (I wish it was), but the people of Gaza. The conservative Israeli daily Ma'ariv quotes "Israeli sources" who say that "of the approximately 550 fatalities in the operation," only 200 "are linked to the warfare by affiliation or by the manner in which they were killed." This means, Ma'ariv reports, that "that the harm to Hamas members . . . is apparently much smaller than the number of unarmed people who were killed."
Anyone who can read about the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians without flinching needs a heart transplant. Perhaps it is because I have twin 11-month old grandchildren. When I read about a baby boy of just that age who, according to the New York Times, was killed in his high chair while he was banging his little fists in anticipation of his long-deferred breakfast cereal, I am grief struck. His mother's comment: "He died hungry."
The Israelis have also lost. The people of southern Israel have been living in terror for years. Anyone who knows small children understands how little it takes to startle and terrify them. Imagine how they react to the endless crashing of incoming Kassams, which reduce adults to quivering and tears.
Israel has also lost politically. World opinion virulently opposes this war, more strenuously than any Israeli action since the siege of Beirut in 1982. Only in the United States is there significant support. It comes from an administration that will be gone in a few days and from Members of Congress who, when speaking privately, question whether any of this was necessary. The media--led by the New York Times and the Washington Post--supported the war initially, but now have joined the European media in opposition. When Jon Stewart feels comfortable ridiculing Israeli policies on "The Daily Show," and the audience erupts in applause, it is clear what young Americans think about this war.
Even among those who think there was no alternative to war, few are remotely happy about it. They may believe that the war is justifiable, but they hate the idea that Gaza's kids are the victims. On the other hand, they argue, the war could destroy Hamas. Wouldn't that be a good thing? Maybe.
Bringing Hamas to power is one of the most horrific legacies of the Bush administration. In retrospect, the decision to oust Arafat (who had demonstrated the ability to thwart terrorism, and had reduced it to almost zero between 1997 and 2000) was a blunder. The administration's subsequent stingy support for Mahmoud Abbas was incomprehensible and its decision to force the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power--and which Israel and Abbas opposed--was about as benighted a foreign policy move as any in history.
Nonetheless, Hamas' possible successors as rulers of Gaza would likely be worse. Forget about the idea of Abu Mazen riding in triumph back into Gaza following the Israeli troops. One, he wouldn't do it. Two, if he did, he would be viewed as an Israeli stooge.
No, Hamas' likely successors would be Al Qaeda--and its allies--which already have cells in Gaza. Hamas and Al Qaeda hate each other for many reasons, most of which are of interest only to students of Islam. The one that matters to us is that Hamas is willing to compromise with its enemies.
Al Qaeda and its ilk are at permanent war with the West, a war which cannot end until either AQ or the infidels are destroyed. Al Qaeda is not fighting for political goals but to create a pan-national Islamic State that would supplant not only Israel but all the Arab states.
Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood, limits its ambitions to achieving a state in Palestine. It believes in compromise, if only as a stop gap. That is why it could sign a ceasefire agreement with Israel and, according to even Israeli sources, observe it until it decided that Israel was not living up to its end of the deal. It has even raised the idea of a 15 or 20 year ceasefire with the Jewish state.
All this is anathema to groups like Al Qaeda, for whom the destruction of the World Trade Center was a triumph--although it advanced no political goals. AQ has none, just as the terrorists in Mumbai killed for killing's sake.
And these are the people who could make Gaza--a few miles miles from Tel Aviv--its ultimate base of operations.
Writing in the London Jewish Chronicle, reporter Jonathan Freedland predicts, "Gaza could become a vacuum, rapidly descending into Somalia, a lawless badland of warlords and clans. . . . And from the rubble of Gaza, the attacks on Israel will surely resume."
He then quotes Mideast expert Rashid Khalidi, "There would be no Hamas leadership--with undeniable discipline over its forces and the pragmatism to see the benefits of a ceasefire--to rein in these new, angry fighters. The great irony is that Israel may well decapitate Hamas--only to regret the passing of a Palestinian administration with sufficient stature to bring order."
That is another reason for a ceasefire now. The first is to stop the killing. The second is to ensure that a year or two from now we are not all wishing that Hamas was still in charge.
After all, who would think that we would miss Arafat?
My prayer: may Security Council Resolution 1860 take effect.
MJ Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum's Washington Policy Center.