October 25, 2009

Guerrillas Being Guerrillas

Hamas completely lost the Gaza war, according to the always objective Israeli government. Yoram Cohen, former deputy director of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency, recently released a co-authored report with Jeffrey White that collapsed every front of Hamas’s military capabilities.

“Despite attempts to put a positive image on its performance during the operation, the actual course of the fighting reveals a different story: Hamas ... accomplished little militarily, and their only real success was the continuation of rocket fire into Israel - which declined after three weeks of combat," the authors write.

Going into detail, “The casualties, the economic damage and even the psychological damage caused by the rocket fire during the operation never reached the levels expected by Hamas.” The authors also deride Hamas’s leadership for going underground and losing control of the military.

Then in the lowest dig, “Hamas had planned to stand and fight, but the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades proved unequal to the task... and consequently they failed to match the public image Hamas had tried so hard to present of stalwart, proficient Islamic warriors.”

All good points in conventional warfare, but they miss the point in guerrilla warfare.

Israel perceives Hamas rocket fire as a mortal threat, but to Hamas they are merely symbolic, an act of defiance, big kid rocks. They aren’t meant to kill or do significant damage, that's just a bonus. Psychological damage wasn’t the goal either because the fear was contained locally. Hamas’s true target was another act of defiance, the psychological impact of surviving, of keeping Israel locked in war.

To chastise Hamas leadership for disappearing similarly rests on the assumption that Hamas’s primary goals were military objectives, not propaganda based. Israel's criticism of Hamas is somewhat perplexing. Israel ridicules guerrillas for being guerrillas - for going underground, hiding in urban environments and behind civilians, falling back, running, hiding, being militarily defeated.

The same type of resistance cannot be expected from both Hamas and Hezbollah, a frequently compared tandem. Maybe Hamas did plan to stand and fight, but the door remains open for a trap. Hezbollah tries to present stalwart, proficient, Islamic warriors in order to portray the Israeli army as weak. Hamas appears to be the reverse, goading Israel into overwhelming force. Hezbollah always wants to look strong, Hamas the weak and strong, victim and victor.

Hamas was obviously crushed during the Gaza war, but Israel’s military domination plays into the Palestinian’s hands on the international stage.

The report notes, almost brags, “the IDF undoubtedly could have destroyed Hamas' military capabilities.” Hamas poses no ability to destroy Israel’s military capabilities and can barely leave a scratch. This is the reality, but perception is eroding it.

Unless a drastic turn drops the Goldstone report on the UN Security Council, the March session of the UN Human Rights Council will put a year between the war and the war report. Factor in another delay, maybe an indefinite postponement, and the same objections will periodically erupt for years if the Goldstone report isn’t properly addressed.

Goldstone has become a trigger word for Israeli aggression.

The conclusion to the Gaza war is: who cares who won the Gaza war? Everyone knows Israel conquered the ground, sea, and air - that’s the problem! Israel’s dismantling of Hamas, along with swaths of Gaza, evokes disgust more often than praise. Israel’s victory brought no prize; the international community is hounding it, allies like Turkey are turning on it, negotiations remain frozen along with the Palestinian position.

Israel can have the “victory," Hamas never wanted it in the first place. Victory on the military battlefield was impossible, but Israel is taking real damage on the propaganda battlefield.

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