By Elliott Abrams
The reluctance of Hamas’s “military wing”-a misnomer for the more extreme elements of its extremist leadership-to accept the cease-fire designed by Egypt is, well, logical. Let’s admit it. They do not wish to accept defeat, and the Egyptian terms are a defeat for Hamas.
By attacking Israel, what has Hamas wrought? Considerable damage was done to Gaza by Israeli air power, and Gazans will be picking up the pieces for months if not longer. But Hamas proved unable to kill one single Israeli with its hundreds of rockets, and all its special tricks-tunnels, longer-range rockets, a drone-also failed. Nor could they hit an important Israeli public building, nor do much property damage.
There were a few stated “war aims” for Hamas, and the first was freeing terrorists who were let out of prison in exchange for the kidnapped Gilad Shalit but recently re-arrested by Israel. That’s not in the Egyptian proposal. Second, Hamas also called for opening the passages to Gaza, and the Egyptians have promised to do that. But Hamas knows that it is at the tender mercies of Gen. (now President) Sisi and the Egyptian army, which hates them and the entire Muslim Brotherhood. Once the “international community” turns its attention elsewhere, those open passages will get clogged once again.
There is an alternative assessment, and some on the right in Israel are calling the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire an Israeli defeat and Hamas victory. Two members of Israel’s security cabinet voted against accepting the proposed terms. They argue that Hamas sent millions of Israelis cowering in shelters for days, while escaping punishment and reviving Hamas’s fortunes.
Come on. Israelis have not been cowering in shelters for days; they have been running into them briefly while leading their normal lives, the levels of tension declining steadily as confidence in Iron Dome rose. It has been obvious since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah that in all future wars there would be a home front inside Israel, and there has been in this one-but the damage has been amazingly light. In what wars has Israel not lost a single soul, civilian or military?
Have Hamas’s fortunes been revived? Well, think of the solidarity it has received from the Arab League, and the angry, vociferous protests from Arab governments to Washington. Think of the vast protests in the streets of Arab capitals. Right-they were non-existent. After Friday prayers last week, the usual moment for street rallies and violence as men gathered, there was nothing. Partly due to the real crises in Iraq and Syria and the confrontation with Iran, partly to official Arab distaste for the Muslim Brotherhood, solidarity with Hamas has been feigned and formal. The only real protests have been in Europe, where gangs fueled by anti-Semitism have attacked synagogues and Jews. That is fitting: Jew-haters and would-be Jew-killers are always in sympathy. But when Hamas’s backers are found in European semi-fascist gangs rather than in Cairo and Riyadh and Damascus, Hamas is no winner. The solidarity with Israel from President Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Cameron, and Prime Minister Harper has been striking (Obama is a separate story, admittedly).
It is true that Hamas has won some sympathy in the Arab and the Palestinian street for fighting the hated Zionist enemy, but that sympathy will evaporate soon because its fight was pathetic. It could not land a blow, while its actions meant suffering for Gazans. I have one fear about this: some in Hamas and other groups may conclude that old-fashioned terrorism-suicide bombers in cafes and buses, for example-is a more effective weapon than war with Israel via rockets. But Israel defeated the last intifada and knows how to deal with this threat as well.
Now Hamas leaders appear to be at odds about accepting the cease-fire, and some want to achieve more. If they reject a proposal Arab League foreign ministers have already approved, they will isolate themselves even more. If they continue to attack Israel they will assure that Israel has further international sympathy for its military responses. Of course things could still sour badly: further Hamas attacks, a lucky hit, an Israeli ground invasion that brings out all the moralists to attack Israel again. But as of this morning, Hamas has lost this war.