Middle East: Gaza

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The current conflict in Gaza is unfortunately so familiar, and it looks to end in a depressingly familiar manner: essentially nothing much changes, except that a lot of blood is shed, leaving the whole process to be repeated at some juncture in the near future. It is unlikely that Hamas will relinquish or lose its hold on Gaza, and Israel is unlikely to occupy Gaza permanently. At some point, there is going to be an uneasy truce, brought on by an increasing pressure from outside, and both sides feel that they can claim some sort of victory: Israelis will claim that the threat from Hamas has been neutralized, and Hamas will claim that it has successfully resisted the might of the IDF. Rockets will be stockpiled, and tunnels will be dug again. Rockets will be fired and tunnels will be used, prompting Israel to resort to military action again.

Military actions are a means to an end, not the end in and of itself, and a complete security is a chimera. A total military occupation of Gaza by Israel may provide better security for Israel, yet such would be very badly received by the outside world, and it is questionable if the Israeli public opinion would support such a course of policy that will inevitably encounter resistance. Yet the strategy of hitting Hamas hard and withdrawing has not worked in the past, and there is no indication from press reports that this is going to change this time. It is doubtful that Israel can neutralize Hamas in the long term by killing its men and destroying its material: Hamas will continue to gain new recruits and assemble more arsenal. The aims and conditions of victory for Israel, i.e. total security, are incredibly high and almost certainly unattainable, whereas the aims and conditions of victory for the narrative purposes for Hamas, i.e. survival, are more readily reachable. To put in the bluntest terms: if Hamas survives in a reasonable shape, it can claim victory.

There must be a political solution, which would include a measure of guarantee of security for Israel and the lifting of the current blockade on Gaza, so that both peoples could expect to lead reasonable lives without fear or deprivation, but the prospects for such a solution look extremely remote at this moment. An agreement would not satisfy either side completely: there is a lot to lose, yet uncertainties remain about the gains. Any long-term accord will have to ensure that the dissatisfaction is contained to the extent that the potential loss of peace is seen as costlier than discarding it. It is impossible to know whether such a solution is possible at all. The outsiders can only exert so much influence and pressure: for a peace to last, it would have to come from within both parties, and it remains to be seen what price both parties are willing to pay for it. A pessimist may argue that the repeated cycles of violence and the demands of both sides have made such an agreement an impossibility.

The news reports from Gaza are familiar, but each day adds to the gloom and dread, and the process is set to continue for the foreseeable future: more deaths for something that does not differ much from status quo ante bellum.