The diplomatic campaign is in full swing and a comprehensive summary necessitates at least a decade of perspective, yet an interim summary indicates a significant improvement in Israel’s strategic situation following the conflict in Gaza, and its effects on the regional and international arena.
In order to judge the bigger picture, it is helpful to set out in headlines the main areas of the national-security balance. Each point deserves to be expanded on and explained in a separate discussion.
- Hamas was severely beaten. Its abilities have been impaired, some of them severely. An investment of hundreds of millions of dollars and a decade of efforts have all gone down the drain. The only surviving ability, rocket fire, was overwhelmingly neutralized by the Iron Dome.
- The main threat from Gaza—a notable contribution to a “northern” war with Iran and its emissaries—has been removed. Such a war would have harmed capabilities in the main arena, limiting damage to Hamas and reducing Israel’s capabilities to thwart its attacks.
- Deterrence in the face of the main threat has increased: Iran and its emissaries have been impressed by the capabilities demonstrated by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, combining quality and invasive intelligence, unprecedented target delivery, deep integration among military forces and the intelligence community, advanced armaments and an orderly plan of operation, serving clearly defined strategic objectives.
- The partnership with most Arab countries, which are in fact in an anti-Iranian and anti-Turkish coalition with Israel, has deepened. The regimes understand that Israel is severely harming the Muslim Brotherhood—the bitter enemies of these regimes, especially in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
- Coordinated action with the U.S. to end the violent confrontation showed President Joe Biden the benefits of backing Israel’s policy when repelling the threat to it, and the fruits of that backing in strengthening its willingness to adapt its moves for American interests, once a plausible solution was found for the most serious threats to its national security.
- Despite a deep and ongoing political crisis, mainstream Israeli society showed impressive internal solidarity and extreme resilience, refuting the nonsense heard in the television studios and social media about a divided and crumbling society. This resilience has been demonstrated to the enemies as an important component of deterrence.
- The functioning of the home front dramatically improved, when compared to the Second Lebanon War and “Operation Protective Edge.” Severe flaws and gaps that were discovered will contribute to further improvements, towards a much more difficult test in a possible “Northern War.”
- The economic cost of the conflict is limited and will not harm the impressive recovery of the Israeli economy following the pandemic. The shortening of the conflict—a third of the Second Lebanon War and a fifth of the “Protective Edge”—was a crucial contribution to this.
- A dramatic, unprecedented reduction compared to other wars in the rate of innocent casualties in a conflict with a barbaric enemy that places its weapons in the heart of the civilian population, hoping to ensure immunity and/or force a civil nation to kill their children. Even if about 200 civilians were killed, as Hamas claims, the opinion is that most of them were hit by more than 1,000 rockets fired by the organization that fell inside the Gaza Strip.
- Setting expectations of the Israeli public regarding its relations with Israeli Arabs: It turns out that despite the desire of most Arabs to integrate into the economic and civic sphere of the Jewish state and enjoy its successes, the considerable, violent and hostile minority and their manipulative and reckless leadership often dictate the limitations of its integration as a collective. Tribal solidarity has managed to prevent the sector as a whole from ostracizing those who actually identified with the enemy during the war, even though Hamas did not bother to hide its anti-Semitic nature and its goals of annihilation. The behavior of the Arabs will increase their being treated as a “suspicious object” and their serial denial of their crucial contribution to it.
- The chances of Arab parties joining the government have been damaged. Even if in the short term they are incorporated, in a desperate step by one of the parties to form a government, the electoral cost among the Jewish public will soon become clear and the trend will be halted.
- The widespread claim that Hamas has been successful P.R.-wise in Jerusalem, the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs is correct in the short term, yet questionable in the broad strategic context. The status of Arabs in Israel has been weakened as a result of their behavior in the conflict. Israel is likely to prepare the intelligence tools and forceful means of dealing with some of its citizens’ solidarity with the enemy in the next war. Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank have an existential interest in cooperating with Israel in suppressing Hamas. In Jerusalem, incitement by Hamas, Turkey and the Islamic Movement can be addressed through appropriate intelligence and police activities. These are problems that can be contained, in a situation where a historic compromise in the West Bank and Jerusalem is not possible in any case.
- Regarding the return of the bodies of soldiers and civilians who crossed into Gaza, it is appropriate to adhere to considerations of national security and not be dragged into the publicity populism that led to the reckless Shalit deal. Pressure levers are required to achieve strategic goals, not for a move that will encourage Hamas and increase motivation for the abduction of soldiers and their bodies.
Two cautionary remarks:
- The United States has sided with Israel on the Gaza issue, which is secondary in importance. On the critical issue of Iran, the Biden government is galloping in a direction that endangers Israel’s national security.
- In Israel’s political and military system, there is a deeply rooted belief that lacks a factual basis, which promises a dramatic drop in the level of Hamas’s murderous aggression through Gaza reconstruction. This derives from ignoring the historical experience of generations and denying the dramatic cultural differences between Gazan priorities and those of the West. If only Gazans had been willing to prefer reconstruction over the killing of Jews, diverted at least some of the billions of dollars they received to the welfare of their children and had not had repeatedly inflicted destruction for their serial aggression. Reconstructing Gaza without forcibly preventing re-empowerment will only encourage Gazans to continue with their current approach.
To sum up: National conflicts are decided, if at all, in a cumulative process. It is possible to strengthen the bargaining position and focus on improving the quality of life in Israel. Those who seek achievements “once and for all” will be disappointed; those who seek coexistence without violent outbursts do not know the Middle East; those who are looking for a “solution” are simply ridiculous.
Dan Schueftan is the head of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.