The Times reports today that one of Livni’s and Barak’s principle aims was not accomplished during the most recent war in Gaza. Of course it’s never said so directly, but ostensibly, one of the main aims of the war in Gaza was to bolster the support of Livni and Barak before next month’s elections. However, according to the Times, the biggest winners so far are Netanyahu and Lieberman:
Recent polls indicate that Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing opposition party, has retained and even increased its lead. The other party that appears to have gained the most ground is the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman.
Of course I have no special access to the Israeli strategic mind, but if I had to guess, I’d say the main objectives of this war were as follows (in no particular order):
- destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch rockets against Israel
- cripple (or hopefully destroy) Hamas by killing so many members of its cadre that it can no longer function (hopefully leaving a vacuum for Fatah to come back to Gaza)
- disproportionately punish the people of Gaza so that they will turn against Hamas
- regain “face” lost in the 2006 Lebanon war (thus making Israeli people feel better) and rebuild deterrent against Hezbollah
- make Livni and Barak seem more hawkish in hopes of helping their prospects in next month’s elections
Points 1 and 2 were obviously not possible. Although Hamas’s rocket launching capabilities were diminished, they were still sending them across the border until the last day of the war. Point 3 has been proven to be counterproductive time and time again, most recently in Lebanon. Some might argue that point 4 was accomplished, because Hezbollah didn’t open a second front in support of Hamas. I think this is short-sighted though, because Hezbollah is unlikely to be dragged into a conflict that it believes is poorly timed. Hezbollah’s restraint during the war in Gaza probably has more to do with upcoming elections in Lebanon than it does with Israeli deterrence. I will concede, however, that given the nationalist furor the Israeli media and public were in during the war, the part about making Israelis feel better might have been successful to an extent.
However, realistically (or cynically), making Israelis feel better could be seen as part of point 5, because making the people feel better is presumably supposed to help the government during an electoral campaign. And while Barak has seen a boost in the polls, Netanyahu and Lieberman have seen even bigger ones. So all in all, even if in military terms, Hamas and the people of Gaza have been dealt a major blow, it’s hard to see what Israel has actually gained.
Furthermore, the big losers of this war have been Cairo and Ramallah, where throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds, even in their own capitals, Mubarak and Abbas have been scorned by pretty much everyone. And the same goes, of course, for Riyadh and Washington, the latter of which, under the severe senioritis of Bush, pretty much just sat back and watched Gaza burn.
Meanwhile, Syria and Iran could just cynically watch Israel pummel the public opinion of their Arab rivals, because in order for them to come out on top, Hamas need only survive. To my mind, this is but a strengthening of the situation that came about as a result of the 2006 war in Lebanon, so all the talk of Israel exorcising her Lebanese demons seems not only premature, but completely wrong too. The problem is that Israel is too busy patting herself on the back for brutalizing Gaza to realize the longer-term strategic implications of her actions. Mubarak has been further delegitimized (if that’s even possible), while the last nail has finally been hammered into Abu Mazen’s coffin.
If I’m correct, the next three rounds of elections in the region will illustrate my point. I expect to see Netanyahu win in February, Hezbollah and its allies win in Lebanon this summer, and Hamas to win not just legislative, but perhaps also presidential, elections in the event of Palestinian elections.
On the Israeli side, by mimicking Likud belligerence, Livni and Barak have failed to learn a lesson that pre-Obama Democrats kept ignoring in the US: faced with the choice between Coke and Seven Up, both beverages have a shot, but given the choice between Coke and Diet Coke, the people will take sugar over aspartame every day of the week.