Abdel Bari Atwan’s Gaza Scorecard

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of London’s Al-Quds Al-Arabi  newspaper gauges the winners_and_losers of Israel’s war on Gaza.   To some extent, his analysis is predictable:   Al-Quds  is strongly anti-US foreign policy and I can’t picture Atwan arguing that Israel “won” even if it was clear they had won.   Still, he is a highly respected journalist so I outline his scorecard:

1)  Israel.  Had the biggest losses, if not militarily, then at least politically.  After three weeks the IDF could not force Hamas to surrender;   And Israel, the region’s strongest military power had to go to Washington to get a security agreement to stop smuggling in Gaza.;   Losses drastically in the battle for public opinion, and their actions will significantly fuel recruitment for extremist groups. 

2)  Egypt.  Biggest Arab loser.  Lost its role as a mediator amongst Arabs but now  even the US and Israel ignore it.  Livni and Rice agreed on a security memorandum to stop smuggling in Gaza without even consulting Egypt. 

3)  Ramallah Based Palestinian Forces.   totally marginalized;  Supposedly “lost the support of at least half the Arabs as wlel as Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia.”

4)  The “Moderate Axis” governments.  Lost credibility when it failed to undergo any decisive actions, even facilitated the Israeli aggression

5) Amr Mousa.  (Egyptian  head of Arab League)  Most prominent individual victim; lost serious credibility

6)  Pro- Moderate Axis media.  lost credibility

Interestingly, Atwan mainly outlines the losers but he doesn’t go into depth on the winners which is probably the more important question and also harder to gauge.   But like many of the Arab voices who are highly interested in the Palestinian cause, he is confident that this Gaza operation will add momentum to the cause.   He closes out with this paragraph:

هذا العناد في التمسك بالثوابت، وفي رفض الاستسلام هو الذي تخشاه اسرائيل وقيادتها وشعبها، فإذا كان هؤلاء صمدوا ثلاثة اسابيع، ولم يخرج واحد منهم على شاشات التلفزة يندد بالمقاومة، رغم انهيار سلطة ‘حماس’ واختفاء قواتها التنفيذية، وضخامة اعداد الشهداء والجرحى، فإن اداءهم في اي مواجهة قادمة، اذا ما امتلكوا الحد الادنى من الاسلحة الدفاعية، سيكون مفاجئا. فالجيل القادم من ابناء القطاع، الذي سيتكون من اطفال شاهدوا مجازر آبائهم وامهاتهم واشقائهم وشقيقاتهم، سيكون الاشرس، ولن ينسى، ولا نعتقد انه سيغفر

This section goes something like this:  “That these people held out for three weeks, despite the collapse of the Hamas executive ability,  scares the Israelis.  “The coming generation of Gazans which will consist of children who have seen massacres of their mothers and fathers, is going to be alot more vicious/ fiercer.  We will not forget and we won’t forgive.”

My Commentary
Atwan brings up a point I’m seeing alot in the Arabic media but not in the US media when it comes to Military analysis.  In the 1967 war, the IDF beat the combined resources of all the Arabs combined in 6 days.  In the 3 war, Sharon was about 50 km from Cairo and could have gone sightseeing to the Pyramids if he has wanted to.  In ’82’ Israel walked all over the PLO forces in South Lebanon and made it to Beirut with little ease.  So now they are facing Hamas, a rag-tag militia with  massive material and technological disadvantages, but can’t force them to surrender after three weeks?  Isn’t this significant from a military perspective?

4 Responses

  1. Rob,
    couple of questions.

    Despite the Israeli military superority. how do u explain the incessant talks in Israeli media and academia about Israel’s loss of its deterrance capabilities? As far as i know that the IDF was 65miles away from Cairo. However, many Arab writers (i.e. Heikal or Mounir Shafik) dont think that this was a big deal because Israel cannot fight for a long time. The idea that that dont have the man power or these religious senitments that exists in the region to keep on fighting and thats what happened in the war of attrition in 1969.

    I think that militarily or on popular level the winners and the losers are clear. But the point is politically.I mean since when Egypt or the so called Moderate Axis gov had any kind of credibility in the street? so when talking about losing what did they actually lose? I’ve read about tremendous protests in the ME and especially in Egypt. but this takes place all the time like during the 03 invasion of Iraq. but has this changed anything politically?
    So i have another question to be posed; what alterations did this operation lead regionally? I also wonder with all the Arab rage against the US. what was actually expected from the US regionally?

  2. Damien,
    Good questionsa and great points. Thanks for keeping me on my toes.

    1) Deterencce. The Israeli public might be concerned about that but does that mean its a valid concern? Since when has there ever been a serious question of Israel’s inability to crush or lay waste to its enemies? Did Hezbollah lift a finger to help Hamas?

    2) Heikal was and is a Nasserist ideologue. All of his analysis has to be framed in this light. He wants you to believe that Egypt has “all the cards” and was operating from a position of weakness. But then Anwar Sadat came around and totally misplayed Egypt’s hand and thats why they no longer have the same level of influence in the region.

    Is this a valid reading of the power-balance, though? Was Egypt’s strong hand blown by Sadat? Or was Egypt’s weak hand reinforced by a realistic Sadat? How you answer that question gets to the validity of Heikal’s criticisms.

    I lean towards the view that Egypt had a very weak hand and Sadat got about as much as one could expect. Lets also keep in mind that 1) if Egypt doesn’t have the Russian SAM missiles they don’t cross the Suez canal. 2) If Israel was remotely prepared in 1973 there would have been no war. If Israel had the forces ready on 6 October 1973 instead of allowing themselves to be duped into believing the Arabs wouldnt attack, the Egyptians wouldn’t have crossed the canal.

    So its hard for me to take alot of Heikal’s analysis of the Sadat period seriously, considering that he is a hardcore ideologue and also not a military man. Check out his book “Autumn of Fury” which he wrote after Sadat’s death. Its an intense personal attack on Sadat.

    3) You are absolutely right that the hardest point to gauge is the political winners. And Atwan listed the 6 losers but he didnt list the winners. Here are some things to look for:

    a) will the so-called moderate axis (Egypt, SA, Jordan) change its orientation? The Mubarak government is under tremendous pressure to adopt a less pro-US policy and become more pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian. Same with Jordan and probably to a lesser extent Saudi. Will they readjust? If they do that would definetely be a big victory for Hamas.

    Also, on Egypt: supporters of the pro-US orientation in Egypt have argued that it was necessary to do this because it was the only way to have influence on Israel- US. The point is they were arguing that this was a path that had to be taken for Egypt to maximize its influence. Others, such as the prominent commentator Fahmy Huwedi, have long argued that Egypt needs to take a more anti-US approach. Did the Gaza conflict prove the failure of the first approach?

    b) Will Hamas come out stronger in Palestinian politics? If Barrack Obama says Isr-Pal peace is going to be a priority, then there is going to be some movement in the next year or two. Hamas was already the leader of the Pals, but if they strenghten their position in the Palestinian equation, and the US is going to compell peace talks, then doesn’t Hamas serve to benefit?

    c) It wont be clear for some time how the Gaza war affects the Arab equation. But whats crystal clear is that Israel’s normalization agenda will take a serious hit. Its hard for me to see how any Arab or Muslim government could go ahead with a normalization agenda any time soon. Thats a clear loss for Israel.

    d) The total silence by both Obama and Bush doesnt help the US. The only way its perceived is Collusion. Considering that the IDF is making a big show of getting out of Gaza by Tuesday morning, the time of Obama’s innaguration- how does that look on the Arab street? It looks an awful like like collusion. So how exactly does the US benefit from being assocated with the Gaza operation?

    If Obama had some goodwill in the Arab world, he may have lost it all. Or if he isnt perceived as acting on Gaza quick, its all going to disapear.

    e) Terrorism. There is no question in my mind that the US took a major hit in the so-called war against Islamic radicalism. CT took a major hit with the Gaza war.

    I hope I answered your questions. Or at least came close. Feel free to disagree. Only time will tell, and alot of this stuff requires time for us to see the implications play out. But at this point, its hard for me to see alot of positive results for the US and Israel or their allies in the Middle East.

  3. […] is destroyed and Hamas was only able to take out 10? Abdel Bari Atwan believes that Israel’s failure_to_force Hamas to surrender after three weeks is a sign of the Resistance’s strength.  But the fact […]

  4. ttention Abdel Bari

    I have sent you two letters through your E-mail up til now I have not got a reply. The topic is concerning publication of a book that I wrote concerning the the struggle of Palestinians on Zionist occupation. I hope I will get your reply.
    Yours sincerely,
    Sheikh Yusuf

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