What Did Israel Achieve in Gaza?

What Did Israel Achieve in Gaza?: After 11 days airstrikes on and rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egypt-mediated ceasefire on Thursday night. The truce appears to be holding on Friday with Palestinians taking out celebratory gatherings across the occupied territories and Israel removing the emergency restrictions in areas hit by rockets. Both sides have warned that the ceasefire would hold based on the ground circumstances.

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What led to the ceasefire?

Unlike in 2014, when the last major fighting between Israel and Hamas occurred, the Israeli troops were wary of launching a ground invasion this time. In a ground attack, Israel could inflict more damage on Hamas, but the risk of losing Israeli soldiers would also be high. This time, the focus of Israel’s military campaign, which started on May 10, was on leaving maximum damage to Hamas’s militant infrastructure through airstrikes. In the first 10 days of the fighting, Israel carried out more than 1,800 airstrikes on Gaza, according to the UN. But one issue with offensives that are heavily focused on air power is that they need a quicker exit strategy. Airstrikes will leave disproportionate civilian casualties. And disproportionate airstrikes, which was Israel’s strategy, will have even greater damage, inviting international pressure. While Israel tried to sell the narrative that it’s a victim of terror (which has buyers), the fact remains that Israel is the only sovereign power in this conflict, which continues the occupation of Palestinian territories in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, international laws and norms.

So, when civilian casualties mounted in Gaza, even those countries that initially supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” started calling for a ceasefire. In the UNSC most countries backed an immediate ceasefire. The Biden administration, which was facing intense pressure from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, issued a strong statement on Wednesday asking for “a significant de-escalation”. Israel was also facing internal pressure as its streets were gripped by riots between Jewish vigilantes and Arab mobs. Protests were spreading in the West Bank and rockets were coming from the Lebanon border. Amid intensifying pressure from many sides, the Israeli Security Cabinet unanimously accepted a “unilateral and mutual” ceasefire with Hamas on Thursday night. The militants immediately confirmed the truce.

Did Israel achieve its goals?

During the course of the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there were two ways to deal with Hamas — one, to conquer Hamas and the other to establish deterrence. The Prime Minister said his aim was “forceful deterrence”, but conquering was “an open possibility”. Israeli military leaders have claimed that they have killed 225 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad — a contested claim as the Gaza Health Ministry says 232 Gazans were killed in Israeli strikes, including 66 children. Israel has also claimed that it has destroyed Hamas’s elaborate tunnel network and military and intelligence infrastructure. ‘We have set Hamas back by years,” said Mr. Netanyahu.

It’s true that Hamas has suffered far greater damage than what its rockets inflicted on Israel, where 12 people were killed, including one child and three foreign nationals. But it will be clearer only in the coming weeks, months or years whether the Israeli campaign has established deterrence. The facts on the ground tell us that despite the heavy losses Hamas suffered, it continued to fire rockets into Israel till the last moment. On the 11th day, Hamas fired some 300 rockets into Israel.

What was Hamas’s strategy?

As soon as the ceasefire was announced, Palestinians took to the streets “celebrating the resistance”. Senior Hamas officials called it “the euphoria of victory”. By launching the rocket attacks on May 10, hours after Israeli forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, Hamas was seen to be making a political point — it is the real defender of Jerusalem. In effect, Hamas was trying to tap the growing Palestinian resentment towards Israel’s high-handedness. The political messaging appeared to have gone down well with the Palestinians as Israel faced unprecedented protests and riots both in the occupied West Bank and Israeli cities when the Gaza attack was under way.

Militarily, Hamas, despite the heavy losses it suffered, demonstrated its growing rocket fire capabilities. Hamas launched at least 4,000 rockets in 11 days, more than the 3,383 rockets it fired during the 50 days of conflict in 2014. By launching barrages of rockets within minutes, it also managed to overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome defence system. For example, in one day last week, Hamas launched more than 1,000 rockets. In 2014, its daily total never crossed 200. And Hamas rockets killed more civilians in Israel in 11 days this time than the total number of civilian deaths during the seven weeks of 2014, which is a matter of high concern for Israel.

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What’s next?

Ceasefires can be fragile. In 2014, after the ceasefire was announced, Israel attempted to assassinate Hamas’s shadowy military commander Mohammed Deif, but failed. It was followed by more rocket attacks. This time, too, the truce is tenuous. Hamas says it accepted truce after Israel promised “to lift their hands off Sheikh Jarrah (where Palestinians face eviction from their houses) and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli side has denied any such promise and emphasised that the ceasefire was unconditional. Israel has already removed some restrictions it had imposed on Al-Aqsa, which it says was a temporary security measure and Hamas could take credit for the same. But Sheikh Jarrah is a more complicated matter. The Supreme Court of Israel is supposed to give a final ruling on the eviction of Palestinians in the neighborhood. If Israel goes ahead with the eviction process, there could be more protests and violence. Israeli leaders say there won’t be lasting peace as long as Hamas has rockets. Hamas says there will be rockets as long as the occupation continues.