IN THIS LATEST of the Gaza Wars, a little noted symmetry offers insight into developments which doubtless portend the years ahead. The symmetry to which I refer concerns the names attached to the battles of 2008-09 and 2012.
In Israel we have had Mivtza Oferet Yetzuka and Amud Ana’an, better known in North America as operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Cloud. In Palestine, these were known respectively as the Battle of al-Furqan and Hijarat Sajil, or Operation Sajil Stones. The symmetry subsists in the flipping between descriptive and military versus figurative and religious terminology, in the 2008 conflict Israel adopting the descriptive mode and Hamas the metaphorical, their positions exchanging in the subsequent operation.
It may be that the longstanding discord between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac is of indefinite character, and in any case the religious aspect of the conflict is never far from the surface. Operation Pillar of Cloud recalls Exodus 13:21 (“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud”) and as such is intended as an uplifting work of propaganda, as was the case with the phrase “Battle of al-Furqan” — a Quranic Surah refering to the work of the righteous in confronting evil.
We do well however to notice also recent military developments which serve as a foundation to present military and factional confidence. Israel for example has found a pillar of a sort in the Iron Dome, a highly successful anti-missile system championed by President Obama and projected to absorb US congressional appropriations of more than 600 million dollars by the year 2015.
Likewise and on the side of Hamas, one apprehends Operation Sajil Stones. The Persian term Sejil refers to a family of Iranian produced solid fuel missiles, and the boldness of Hamas these days is the direct result of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps weapons obtained via Sudan and Egypt. At the centre of Hamas’s weapons program has been the drone and the Fajr-5, a longer range weapon able to reach deep into Israel’s territory.
Both the Iron Dome and the longer range solid fuel ballistic missile were conceived and deployed as tactical counter moves to the strategies of the enemy. Solid fuel weapons for instance are considered to have defensive advantages related to detection and pre-emptive strikes. The latest conflict, in summary, is the outcome of many developments — but near the top of this list of developments are the respective arsenals quietly and relentlessly built up, with the active assistance of proxy states, in preparation for the inevitable.
I anticipate the sneers of readers who have noted the obvious asymmetry of Israel and Palestine on the matter of military strength. How emboldened could Hamas reasonably be, given the vast material advantages of Israel? Here the calculation must include what are euphemistically known as “regional considerations,” not only of a political but also of military character. Developments in the region, as many have noted, offer Hamas a degree of confidence that could not be had at the time of the previous Gaza war, and as Iran approaches the attainment of a working nuclear weapon, Hamas (and Hezbollah) should be expected to grow ever more encouraged.
It seems improbable that the Iran of the clerics and of the IRGC crime syndicate will ever possess its coveted WMDs. Diplomacy or a loss of nerve or calmer heads or a military strike or something other will presumably intervene. It is a work however of uncomplicated observation to arrive at the now thinkable notion that the next Gaza War could revive the languishing thesis of mutual assured destruction. Hamas’s attainment of long range Iranian ballistic missiles is after all the complement of Iran’s attainment of nuclear arms. This is the full meaning of my earlier phrase, “the increasing sophistication of the respective arsenals.”
The logic which drives these developments produces also the familiar law of diminishing returns, and already we may discern this principle at work in Gaza. The 2008-09 offensive purchased Israel some months of relative peace and temporarily diminished the stockpile of enemy weapons, and the 2012 offensive is unlikely to do even that. The wretched gambit undertaken by Hamas this time around was to secure an Israeli over-reaction and thereby a Palestinian propaganda victory.
This passive-aggression discloses not only the weaknesses and desperation of Hamas, but the figurative and material dead-end prospect of the military option. As Israel absorbs the lessons of past campaigns, both their military and propaganda sophistication benefits, rendering ever more improbable Hamas’s gambles. One is left to wonder how much longer Israel will necessarily divert vast and precious resources (including American resources) into its self-defence, as Palestinians suffer the squalor and indignity brought about by leaders who do not lead and by declared victories which are in fact ruinous failures.