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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Why Israel is Winning the War

In the modern age wars are seldom decisively won. Especially wars between unequal sides, like the current war between Israel and Hamas. To win a war against a terrorist organisation that masquerades itself as a legitimate governing body, nothing short of total destruction will suffice (something which the Sri Lankan government is close to achieving against the Tamil Tigers, but you don't hear much about that in the news, do you?). But such a total win would be a Pyrrhic victory, at a devastating cost to the winning side.

However, within the constraints of a limited war against para-military terrorist organisations such as the Hamas, Israel is actually winning this war. Just like, contrary to popular wisdom, it has won the war against Hezbollah in 2006. Here's why.

Both Hezbollah and Hamas are leading an ongoing war-by-proxy against Israel on behalf of Iran, whose declared policy is the destruction of the Jewish state. Iran does not wish to engage Israel directly (for obvious reasons), but the Iranian leadership is willing to fight Israel until the last Lebanese or Palestinian is left standing. So Israel must create an equilibrium against Hezbollah and Hamas similar to the equilibrium it has with Iran. This equilibrium is borne out of enough destruction and death on the other side to make it think twice, and three times, before initiating acts of hostility in the future.

The current war will end pretty much the same way as the 2006 war with Hezbollah did. Hamas will fire the last shots (or, rather, rockets) thus allowing its leaders - after they emerge from their hiding hole under Shifa hospital - to declare victory. Fair enough, no harm done. But it is Gaza that will need rebuilding, not Israel. It is Gazans who will bury more than 1,000 people, not Israelis. And it is the Hamas leadership that will face tough questions from within and without, not the Israeli government. So Hamas will think twice, and three times, before launching new rocket attacks against southern Israel.

Soom after the end of the 2006 war, Hezbollah's leader Nasrallah confessed that had he known the extent of Israel's response he would not have authorised the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers (an event that triggered the war). And despite his recent belligerent rhetoric, Nasrallah decided not to open a new front against Israel in the north, and hastened to deny that it was not Hezbollah that fired the few rockets against northern Israel. Why? Because Nasrallah spent the last couple of years acting more as a building contractor than a political leader, given that entire neighbourhoods were flattened during the 2006 war. His people will not readily accept a renewed destruction of their homes and lives, so he's being careful. He's thinking twice, and three times, before acting.

Israel is close to achieving the same equilibrium against Hamas. And this is why Israel is winning this war. True, every equilibrium in nature eventually disintegrates, requiring a new equilibrium to be found, but this is unfortunately the best Israel can hope for when dealing with a terrorist organisation that refuses to recognise its right to exist. One can only hope that when the time comes for the future equilibrium to be found, it will be an equilibrium achieved by diplomacy and negotiation, aimed at reaching some peaceful modus vivendi, and not another war.

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