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?

The Calm Before the Storm?

What to make of the fighting so far  from a military standpoint? 

According to the latest reports, it doesn’t seem that Israeli forces are taking heavy casualties.  Just 7  according to CNN.  So does this mean that Hamas is taking a beating, even “losing?” After all,  the Islamic Resistance Movement faces several geographic and other challenges that Hezbollah didn’t.  From an excellent article at  The National:

there are five important differences between the two conflicts that the Hamas leadership does not seem to have grasped or appreciated.

1. Gaza, only 360 square kilometres in size, lacks the strategic depththat Hizbollah had in Lebanon. So Hamas guerrillas have much smaller and narrower areas of operations than Hizbollah guerrillas had in Lebanon, which gives Israel an advantage.

2. Hizbollah fighters are not members of government, civilian and military institutions such as the police and ministries, so Israeli jets had a limited list of targets. In Gaza they have a large number of easy targetsthat were hit in the first minutes of the attack, killing at least 200 Hamas members in public buildings.

3. Israel besieged Lebanon from air and sea but could never seal off land routes in and out of the country, so Hizbollah had a good supply of arms and supplies. Gaza was completely sealed off fromall sides with the exception of a few tunnels that were mostly destroyed in the first two days of the attack. Now Israeli tanks have cut off Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip from its southern part and completely sealed off all entry points, so Hamas has no access to military supplies.

4. Hamas is much less able than Hizbollah to threaten the Israeli rear. While Hizbollah missile strikes hit dozens of Israeli settlements, towns and cities all over northern and central Israel and can now reach southern Israel, Hamas’s missiles can reach only up to 45km and are mostly ineffective. Missiles fired from Gaza in 2008 killed ten Israelis, while Hizbollah missile attacks on Israel in the 33-day war killed more than 100 and inflicted serious damage to property. So Hamas missile strikes will not be enough to force Israel into new ceasefire talks. Moreover, Hamas’s anti-armour capabilities seem to be ineffective against Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

5. Hizbollah had much better information, intelligence and counter-intelligence than Hamas. This has been made clear by Israel’s ability to hit many sensitive targets and to dominate the battlespace from the air. Hamas has failed to spring any surprises on the battlefield in the way that Hizbollah did in 2006, confusing the Israeli military command.

Or is HAMAS merely waiting  to set up a strategic ambush or  “spring the street warfare trap?”   If I was the Hamas military leader, recognizing that the IDF has  insurmountable advantages in face-to-face normal fighting,  I would tell the foot-soldiers to sit back, put up minimum resistance, and wait until IDF extends itself all over Gaza. And then go all out in a Stalingrad-type  last stand with a blaze of martyrdom.  

If Hamas is going to go down, then their strategy might be to try and bring down as many Israeli soldiers as possible.   There isn’t any question that Hamas would have the full weight of Arab public opinion behind it in such a battle.  And if Israeli public opinion, suddenly faced with lots of their boys dying combined with a newly inaugurated  Barrack Obama under enormous pressure to get involved…. momentum might start swinging Hamas’ way.

Anyway,  if Hamas supposedly has 15-20 K fighters and the IDF claims to have killed just 150 than these guys are somewhere.  Probably waiting.