Operation Pillar of Defense appears to be over, thanks to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. There have been flareups in the few days since the ceasefire was agreed upon, but for now it seems to be holding. There were significantly less Israeli and Palestinian casualties from this conflict then there were in the last full scale battle between Israel and Hamas, in the winter of 2008.
I would like to share some thoughts regarding this conflict.
First, this is the second time that a conflict between Israel and Hamas has broken out directly following the election of Barack Obama. (Conspiracy theorists, go wild!) To all those who spent the last several years complaining that Obama was no friend to Israel and that he has “thrown Israel under the bus,” it must have been shocking to see Obama not obfuscate or contextualize his support of Israel throughout the conflict. (Are they still counting the votes in Florida? This might be relevant.)
This conflict was presumably less about American politics, however, and more about Israeli politics. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is running for re-election and there is little doubt that he will keep his office come January. However, if his mind was in the Israeli political arena when he made the decision to allow this conflict to escalate (I am not saying, nor even implying, that he started or caused this conflict; I am saying that he chose to engage with Hamas in a manner which he has been choosing not to for quite some time) then he is probably as frustrated with its outcome as are his constituents. Israelis have been vocal in their discontentment that the conflict ended so quickly and without the IDF being given a chance to “finish the job.” The conflict ended with a ceasefire and it will begin again in some form. Whether it will it begin again in a few days, a few months or a few years is unknown. But most Israelis understand that the conflict has not been resolved. Over half of Israelis think that Israel should have pushed on in their attempt to disable Hamas’s military capability. And that has hurt Bibi’s newly formed party, Likud Beitenu in the polls. (Check out this picture of Israeli soldiers, in uniform!, spelling out “Bibi Loser” with their bodies.)
On Friday, the IDF opened fire against Palestinians who were rallying at the border. Palestinians entered the “No-Go Zone” that Israelis maintain within the Gaza side of the border. Hundreds of Palestinians marched on the fence, attempting to damage it and to raise a Hamas flag. I once had a professor (an Israeli) who said that Israel’s real problem, down the road, will be thousands, or hundreds-of-thousands, of unarmed Palestinians marching on Israel’s borders. I was thinking a lot about this statement (premonition?) during this incident.
There is a West Wing episode where Chief-of-Staff Leo McGarry has a debate about missile shields with Lord Marbury, the newly appointed ambassador from Great Britain. (I understand that the West Wing is fictional, but they always do such a great job of making big arguments simple and digestible.) Leo wants to invest in a missile shield and President Bartlett is unconvinced (due to prolonged technical failures). Bartlett asks Marbury to weigh in and he votes against it. Leo says that the world invented a nuclear weapon and it owes it to itself to invent something that can make it irrelevant. Marbury asks “do you think you can make it stop?” He immediately continues, “Well, you can’t. We build a shield and somebody will build a better missile.” (You can watch the clip here. Relevant section begins at the 2:20 mark.)
Israel’s Iron Dome has done unbelievable things and has truly proven its value during this conflict. But 2012 will come to be known as the year where post-disengaged Gaza managed to bring the center of Israel into this long-lasting war. Israelis were spending their days, and nights, in bomb shelters, not only in the south of the country, but also in Tel Aviv. Israel built a shield, and Iran managed to avoid detection and send Hamas a better missile. And that is not even to mention that a bus was blown up in the center of Israel for the first time since 2006. It will never be possible to stop every attack or every missile. Better shields will result in better weapons and the process will continue indefinitely.
Lastly, I want to address the role of social media in this conflict. In 1991, America dropped a bomb on a building in Iraq and broadcasted it to the world. It was the next step in “sharing” the war with those back home. That playing field was once again changed when the IDF released a video showing crisp and clear footage of them dropping a missile on the car of Ahmed Jabari, chief of the Gaza military wing of Hamas, along with an ominous photo of Jabari with the word “eliminated” printed across it. They also released the following tweet: “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” Hamas responded with a tweet of their own, stating that Israel had opened the “Gates of Hell” with their attack.
Israel did not simply document the war and share it online, they brought the war to social media. Hamas responded via social media. This was not just a battle of missiles and bombs. In a conflict so overly-studied and parsed by the world, the two sides took to YouTube and Twitter to fight what may have been the most important aspect of the war: that of public opinion. The ceasefire holds, both sides have declared victory. It has already been reported that Iran is rearming Hamas. And the cycle continues.
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