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The Gaza War
Hamas Restarts War in Losing Position

It looks like the Israelis and Egyptians are sticking with their plan to push Hamas against the wall. After the Gazan militant group broke a ceasefire yesterday, Israeli forces responded, and while Egypt holds the blockade firm, every day now brings Hamas’ rocket supplies closer to zero.

The New York Times reports:

As a 72-hour truce in Gaza expired at 8 a.m. Friday, Palestinian militants fired barrages of rockets into Israel and the Israeli military responded with airstrikes, one of which killed a 10-year-old boy, according to relatives.

The renewed hostilities interrupted the indirect talks in Cairo, brokered by Egypt and backed by the United States, for a more durable cease-fire agreement. While the rocket fire signaled Hamas’s refusal to extend the temporary lull and its desire to apply pressure for its demands to be met at the talks, the Israeli government said in a statement that “Israel will not hold negotiations under fire.”

Given that Hamas seems to have fired one-third of its rocket supply against Israel and lost another third to Israeli military action, and that it currently has no means to rebuild its arsenal, neither Israel nor Egypt is probably very impressed by Hamas’ military capability at this point.

The one weapon Hamas has that works at all at this point is its capacity to provoke global outrage by arranging for its people to be killed in fighting. But even that has been dulled by Saudi and Egyptian counter-propaganda among Muslims and Arabs.

Meanwhile, Hamas may have missed one important calculation: The more of its rocket arsenal it expends, the greater the incentives both for Israel and Egypt to insist on ultra strict border and smuggling controls. Hamas is in effect disarming itself with every irreplaceable rocket it fires, and its enemies won’t want it to acquire more.

War is a tricky business, in which fortunes can switch overnight, but Hamas today seems in an extremely difficult position, demanding concessions its enemies have no reason to make. Under the circumstances, both Israel and Egypt appear to have solid reasons for sticking to tough negotiating positions and awaiting events.

They have inflicted a major and perhaps crushing military defeat on Hamas. They are now trying to turn this into a decisive political victory that will force Hamas to accept substantially more Egyptian power over Gaza as the price of Hamas’ survival.

Hamas is now about one-third as strong as it was at the start of the war, and it faces enemies who smell its weakness and who loathe and mistrust it. Yet it is insisting on an agreement that would amount to a victory even as its political wing reaches out to Iran. One can admire the chutzpah but doubt the wisdom of a strategy rooted in desperation and fear.

Yet whether it realizes it or not, losing may be Hamas’s one last card to play. If it collapses totally, the chaos that would result in Gaza might be worse even than Hamas’s rule. We have seen in Libya, Iraq, and Syria just how ugly things can get when there is no controlling force.

In light of this, the Egyptian goal might be either to rule Gaza by suborning a desperate Hamas or by installing Fatah as a weak and dependent power. But it’s hard to engineer these things, even in a prearranged handover deal — much less if authority collapses but armed fighters remain, the military wing is still active, and Islamic Jihad and other groups are waiting in the wings.

Would Israel then agree to use the IDF to impose Fatah rule? This would not only be very hard to accomplish, but would probably prove self-defeating, as the visible Israeli support would be fatal to the Palestinian group from a legitimacy point of view.

So even as Hamas appears to court its own destruction, it still may have something to sell. Its last weapon may be a threat to commit suicide as an organized force—the ultimate suicide bomber, as it were.

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  • Mark Mazer

    Moshe Sharon: “Here are the Ten Rules for Negotiations in the Middle Eastern bazaar:
    Never suggest anything to the other side. Let the other side present its suggestions first.
    Always reject; disagree. Use the phrase “doesn’t meet our minimum demands,” and walk away, even 100 times. The tough customers get the good prices.
    Don’t be hasty to come up with counter-offers. There will always be time for that. Let the other side make amendments under pressure of your total “disappointment.” Patience is the name of the game: “Haste is from Satan!”
    Have your own plan ready in full, as detailed as possible, with the “red lines” completely defined. Weigh the other side’s suggestions against this plan.
    Never change your detailed plan to meet the other side “half-way.” Remember, there is no “half-way.” The other side also has a master plan. Be ready to quit negotiations when you encounter stubbornness on the other side.
    Never leave things unclear. Always avoid “creative phrasing” and “creative ideas” – which are exactly what your Arab opponent wants. Remember that the Arabs are masters of language, and playing with words is the Arab national sport. As in the bazaar, always talk dollars and cents.
    Always bear in mind that the other side will try to outsmart you by portraying major issues as unimportant details. Treat every detail as vitally important.
    Emotion belongs neither in the market nor at the negotiating table. Friendly words, outbursts of anger, holding hands, kissing, touching cheeks and embracing should not be taken to represent policy.
    Beware of popular beliefs about the Arabs and the Middle East – e.g., “Arab honor.” Never do or say anything because somebody told you it is “the custom.” If the Arab side finds out you are playing the anthropologist, it will take advantage.
    Always remember that the goal of all negotiations is to make a profit, and aim at making the biggest profit in real terms. Remember that every gain is an asset for the future, because there is always likely to be “another round.” The Arabs have been practicing negotiating tactics for more than 2,000 years. By contrast, the Israelis, and Westerners in general, want “quick results.” In this part of the world, there are no quick results. He who is hasty always loses.”

  • Jay

    Lets see no major weapons left and were worried about who would take over? Who cares let them fight it out in the Gaza streets. Maybe good will prevail if that is possible in an area of people who voted for Hamas.

  • Rick Johnson

    You can only have ‘peace in the Middle East’ when Israel achieves an unqualified victory. Hamas must be destroyed. Completely. Then Israel and Egypt can work out the best way of governing this pathetic strip of land.

  • adk

    I don’t understand that fear of “potential bad consequences” for Israel if Hamas totally self-destructs in Gaza. Even without their rockets and with diminished number of fighters, they are still the largest and strongest force in Gaza that won’t go into sunset quietly. Their challengers will be another jihadist militia (and certainly not PA), so there will be a period of internecine warfare, just like between Hamas and PA in 2007. While at that, they won’t be firing at Israel much nor rebuilding their tunnels. There will be more chaos and blood in Gaza which, in turn, will cause more outrage against Israel from the so-called international community, but it won’t be any higher than now. On the plus side, UN won’t be able to send yet another “Israeli war crimes fact-finding” expedition to Gaza (which they will surely do as soon as dust settles in Gaza.)

    Will there be cries from the same enlightened community for Israel to enter Gaza and save Palestinians from themselves? No way. So, what’s the downside from Israel’s point of view?

  • Breif2

    The bien-pensant in the West have been excoriating Israel for using its overwhelming military might to commit crimes of war against the Palestinian Arabs under the pretext of defending themselves against Hamas. They haven’t been doing so out of anti-Semitism, oh no!, and not because they approve of Hamas’ genocidal goals and tactics, but purely out of concern for innocent civilians. I therefore expect them to at long last turn to Hamas and yell: “STOP IT! You’re not achieving anything but only giving those Jewish Israeli monsters an excuse for their Nazi-like behavior. For the sake of your population, STOP!” I have started holding my breath waiting for this to happen.


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