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February 4, 2009

Politically, Hamas May Have Won

by Jim Lobe

CAIRO - Despite declarations of victory by Israel, the military assault on the Gaza Strip failed to achieve its stated aims, many analysts say. The assault, and even its exceptional brutality, may only have vindicated the notion of resistance among the Arab public.

"The steadfastness of the resistance in Gaza in the face of Israeli military power has resuscitated the idea of armed resistance," Gamal Fahmi, political analyst and managing editor of opposition weekly Al-Arabi al-Nassiri, told IPS.

From Dec. 27 to Jan. 17, Israel pounded targets throughout the Gaza Strip from air, land, and sea, in ostensible retaliation for rockets fired at Israel by Palestinian resistance factions, chief among them Hamas. The latter two weeks of the campaign brought a parallel ground offensive that encountered fierce resistance in and around a number of population centers.

The campaign only came to a close – albeit an uncertain one – following Israel's announcement of a unilateral cease-fire Jan. 17. The next day, Palestinian resistance factions also announced a temporary cessation of hostilities, but not before launching several rocket salvoes at targets inside Israel.

Over the course of the following week, Israel gradually withdrew its ground forces from the Gaza Strip. When the dust settled, more than 1,300 Gazans lay dead, mostly women and children. Thousands were injured.

Israeli military officials hastened to declare the operation a success. Some Egyptian commentators, however, say that despite the high civilian death toll and infrastructural damage, the conflict represented a strategic victory for the Palestinian resistance.

"Victory in war isn't determined by casualty rates but by the achievement of war aims," Abdelhalim Kandil, political analyst and editor-in-chief of independent weekly Sout al-Umma wrote Jan. 26. "And Israel failed to achieve its stated aims after more than three weeks of punishing Gaza."

He said Israel's "unilateral cease-fire" – for which Israel received nothing in return from the Hamas-led resistance – was unprecedented in the history of Israeli war-making. "The resistance called its own cease-fire one day later, but not before demonstrating that its capacity for launching rockets at Israel remained intact," Kandil wrote.

Gamal Mazloum, former Egyptian army general, said Israel's stated war objectives changed more than once mid-campaign.

"Over the course of the conflict, Israeli officials went from saying that the goal of the operation was 'removing' Hamas, to 'degrading' its rocket-launching capacity, to 'teaching Hamas a lesson,'" Mazloum told IPS. "But the unexpected steadfastness of the resistance forced them to conclude operations without achieving any of these. Now Israel says its chief aim is to 'cut off weapons smuggling' to Gaza."

According to Hamas officials, Israel's real objective was clear from the outset.

"The reason for Israel's aggression is to change the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip," Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk was quoted as saying during the conflict Jan. 13. "They have been thinking about this ever since Hamas won the elections."

This was not the first attempt at forcible removal of the resistance group.

Shortly after Hamas' surprise victory in the 2006 legislative elections, the U.S. covertly armed and trained elements of the Palestinian Fatah movement, Hamas' secular rival, with the aim of wiping out the Hamas leadership in Gaza in one fell swoop. Based in the West Bank, Fatah currently heads the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the leadership of Western-backed PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

The scheme, coordinated by U.S. Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton and Fatah strongman Mohamed Dahlan, later became known as the Dayton Plan.

But after learning of the plot in mid-June 2007, Hamas preemptively routed its Fatah adversaries and seized control of Gaza. Hamas has maintained control of the Gaza Strip ever since. As a result, Gaza been subject to an internationally sanctioned embargo that has brought it to humanitarian ruin.

Hamas officials say that Israel's latest assault was simply an attempt to finish the job that Fatah – with U.S. and Israeli support – failed to do in 2007.

"They tried to push Fatah to stand and fight Hamas, but we defeated them in the Gaza Strip," Marzouk said in a reference to the failed Dayton plot. "So Israel took action themselves."

Several commentators agree that both campaigns had the same objective – namely, the obliteration of Hamas. "Both the Dayton Plan and Israel's recent war aimed – and failed – to remove Hamas from power in Gaza," said Mazloum.

Despite the Dayton Plan's significance in the chronology of the conflict, it is seldom referred to in current reporting by the Western mainstream media.

"The Dayton affair is largely ignored – but then facts concerning Palestine are always subject to deceptions and disinformation in the Western media," Fahmi said. "The western press also rarely mentions that Hamas won democratic elections in 2006, or the extent of corruption in the PA."

Along with Israel's failure to achieve its stated war aims, commentators note that the war on Gaza – horrific images of which have been transmitted around the world – represented a public relations catastrophe for Israel.

"The war revealed Israeli criminality to the entire world," said Fahmi. "It also served to put the Palestinian cause back on the conscience of the international community."

"Israel's image is now at an all-time low," said Mazloum, pointing to the massive demonstrations worldwide in solidarity with Gaza. "Israel is already suffering from the effects of this crisis, politically, economically, and socially."

Mazloum attributed Israel's uncharacteristic unilateral cease-fire declaration to mounting worldwide outrage over its assault on Gaza's largely defenseless civilian population.

"There was an unprecedented explosion of popular rage in the Arab world, which put most Arab governments under tremendous pressure and could have led to serious regional escalations," said Mazloum. "The blatant carnage also eventually led to pressure on Israel by the international community to stop the aggression."

Both domestically and regionally, he said, Hamas was already reaping the fruits of what amounted to a political victory.

"Both in Gaza and the Fatah-controlled West Bank, the people have rallied around Hamas as defender of the Palestinian cause," said Mazloum. "And on the regional level, Hamas proved its staying power and showed it cannot be simply removed from the equation. Egypt, for one, will now have no choice but to deal with Hamas as a political reality."

According to Fahmi, the most notable outcome has been a resurgence of the notion of armed resistance to Israel – after some 30 years of fruitless negotiations.

"Resistance doesn't mean irrational violence devoid of political considerations, as its detractors would suggest," he said. "On the contrary, it is – particularly in the face of brutal occupation – the only logical choice."

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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