- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In conventional military terms, Hamas lost badly in Gaza, but in the far more important long-term struggle for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people, it followed the model of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and won big.

In 22 days of fighting that ended with a unilateral Israel cease-fire, 1,285 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. In contrast, the Israel Defense Forces lost 10 soldiers during the operation, and three civilians were killed. Several of the soldiers were killed accidentally in “friendly fire” incidents.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, therefore proved itself to be militarily vastly inferior to Hezbollah, the Shi’ite Party of God in southern Lebanon, which was able to stand its ground and unexpectedly inflict relatively high casualties on the Israeli army during the brief war of July 2006.

Further, as we have noted in previous analyses, the Israeli army performed far more effectively during this conflict in Gaza than it did against Hezbollah. This was in large part due to the vastly improved training programs of the army and far superior leadership during the current conflict.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, proved far more competent and successful than their hapless predecessors former Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz during the Hezbollah miniwar.

A former Israeli air force commander, Mr. Halutz was confident that air strikes alone would pulverize Hezbollah in its well-prepared positions and he showed no incompetence in directing ground forces in the land war. Gen. Ashkenazi, a tough and highly experienced ground combat solider, mastered all the complex tactical dangers of urban fighting and used his overwhelming firepower in ways Hamas could not counter.

However, as we warned and predicted in these columns, the Israelis proved ignorant of several crucial principles of war at the strategic level and, as a result, having won all the battles in Gaza easily, they look likely to suffer far more from the political and strategic consequences of their partial victory.

First, the Israelis pulled out of Gaza without evicting Hamas from control of the densely populated territory of 1.4 million people. Hamas therefore had the last laugh. It survived the overwhelming Israeli military onslaught.

Second, as a result, Hamas soared in popularity on the West Bank, which is ruled - feebly - by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The 27-nation European Union, the new U.S. administration of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the 57-state Organization of the Islamic Conference want Mr. Abbas to stay in power and become a credible leader of the Palestinian people in a revived peace process with Israel.

However, the 85 governments ruling more than 1.8 billion people will fail for a simple reason: Mr. Abbas almost has no credibility left with the Palestinian people on the West Bank. If elections were held there tomorrow - they are scheduled before the end of this year - Hamas would sweep to an easy victory, just as it did in Gaza in 2006.

As if that is not enough, Israel’s very success in killing a significant number of key Hamas leaders during this three-week war did not decapitate the organization but will likely energize it with the blood of martyrs. That has been an all too common consequence of this kind of military operation carried out without either sufficient ruthlessness or any real political strategy to accompany it.

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