One of the most influential strategic thinkers, Carl von Clausewitz, wrote in his famous book On War:: War is “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” Out of the book, one would assume that the Israeli war on Gaza ended with Israel’s failure to compel its enemy to do its declared will, or in another simple sense, Israel lost the war.
Yet, why did that war that dragged on for 50 days stop now, and all of a sudden? What’ are the main reasons for that?
A quick glance at the situation based on the readily available information would say that the deal came now because of the following main reasons:
Indications about the Palestinian resistance ability to go for a longer war
Hamas’ harsh measures against collaborators with Israel
Israel’s failing assassination attempt on al-Qassam’s leader
Internal pressures on Netanyahu
Egypt’s military failure on its eastern borders in Libya
Early on August 26 — the day when the peace deal was reached — Israel’s Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told the Israeli radio that “Hamas still possess a great capacity to launch missiles.” This declaration comes after 38 days of another statement by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military Brigadier-General Moti Almoz saying that “I think that we have hit and destroyed 30 to 40 percent of the rockets.”
In fact, the daily number of Palestinian rockets fired at the occupied territories did not witness a sharp drop between the beginning and the end of the conflict. According to Israeli sources — Jerusalem Post and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs — Palestinians fired 192, 122, 130, and 116 rockets at Israel on July 10, July 13, August 10, and August 26 respectively.
The 50 days of war proved that the Palestinian resistance was able to either hide or manufacture a huge stockpile of rockets that took Israel’s security establishment by surprise.
Such Israeli failure to estimate the capabilities of the Palestinian resistance was coupled with successful measures by the latter to curb Israel’s intelligence collection in the besieged strip.
On August 22, the Hamas government in Gaza publicly executed 18 Palestinians after being accused of collaborating with Israel. At the same time, the government established a clear policy to guard the privacy of the captured spies: the names of the assassinated spies are not to be announced publicly so as to guard the reputation of their families. Concurrently, Hamas opened the door for a lenient policy with those collaborators who turn themselves in.
Overall, this constituted a major factor of fear that potential collaborators would put in consideration before sharing information with Israel, hence, reducing — even more — Israel’s ability to collect information about the positions of the rocket launchers, factories, and warehouses.
Israel’s intelligence failure was vivid and embarrassing enough when the Israeli delegation promptly left Cairo on August 19 under the claims that Hamas broke the truce through firing three rockets at Be’er Sheva, which the latter denied.
Apparently, as the Israeli writer and peace activist Uri Avnery explains, Israel was involved in the rocket firing to justify a prompt reply through an air strike that targeted the home of Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Israel killed his wife and baby and failed to kill Deif.
Such high-profile assassination attempt should be representing the peak of the Israeli military’s ability to coordinate intelligence and military operations, which turned out to be a disaster.
The military and intelligence failure resulted into a longer war, which the Israeli leadership prefers least based on its recent operational experience in Gaza.
The Israeli economy suffers from big losses because of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge. Tourism, which composes about 7 percent of the Israeli economy, went down by 26 percent in July compared to last year and the economic growth slowed in the second quarter to 1.7 percent from 2.8 percent in the previous three months, in addition to other economic losses.
Israeli public opinion also played a major role in pushing towards the peace deal. Netanyahu’s approval rate stood at 82 percent at the beginning of the war on Gaza; a month later it went down to 63 percent; five days ago it was 55 percent; and now only 38 percent of Israelis are satisfied with the prime minister’s performance.
Netanyahu’s decision to “run away from Gaza,” as Barak Ravid of Ha’aretz puts it, came after he was certain that the agreement would not pass the cabinet vote, which prompted him towards a solitary action that is so far rejected by four of the cabinet ministers.
A Third Party?
The “broker,” as well, had its reasons to push hard for a deal.
Egypt’s Sisi has been exerting all possible efforts since day one of the conflict to use it as a venue for more international credibility. The Palestinian-Israeli mediation role that Mubarak used to play effectively, and Morsi mastered on first attempt because of ties with Hamas, had to be claimed by Sisi to prove himself as a capable leader that would instill stability in the region.
However, the scandal that was revealed by media — mainly the NYTimes — about the Egyptian military involvement in Libya against the Islamic movements made Sisi more keen to stabilize his eastern borders to give more attention to the western one. Events might heat up between the powerful Islamic movements to the east of Libya and Egypt — especially following the joint Egyptian-Emirati failure and armed groups’ takeover of the Tripoli airport. At that instant, Sisi would be better positioned to focus his attention on one front instead of two.
Meanwhile, it would be trivial to think that a successful deal between Hamas and Israel solves the conflict. The conflict is between three parties, not two, with Egypt not being obliged to sign any commitments towards its declared enemy Hamas.
Besides being strongly connected of Sisi’s arch enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is a terrorist organization in Egypt based on a court order issued on March 4, 2014. Hence, a functioning and powerful enemy on the eastern borders is something Sisi would prefer least, not to speak of the political power and popularity Hamas has gained through this recent conflict with Israel. However, the Israeli strikes failed to weaken Hamas, which might push Israel and Egypt to adopt different means.
The peace deal has several key items being subject to negotiations that are supposed to begin in Cairo soon; only after that time one can validate the application of Clausewitz statement on the Israeli case.
The writer is an Academician based in Egypt