Israel won the war. Can it win the peace?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Did Israel win the Gaza War? Yes, militarily Israel overwhelmed Hamas, and by that measure Operation Protective Edge was a success. The Iron Dome worked virtually flawlessly, as a result of which Israel suffered minimal casualties. While emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder sometimes take months or years to diagnose — especially in children — unlike the civilians in Gaza, Israelis did not suffer terrible physical loss or personally damage.
On other levels, however, the results of the war aren’t clear, especially politically.
Internationally, Israel suffered dramatic loss of public support in Europe and even among some sectors of the American public. Even in certain Jewish circles there was stronger sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinians than for the Israelis forced to run to shelters. (This faction will largely come back on board over time, but Israel shouldn’t take their support for granted.) There were few nations which gave unequivocal support to Israel or its tactics.
There were two major areas in which the war will have long-lasting effects: The first is the widespread growth, acceptance, and tolerance of anti-Semitism. The second is the nature of U.S.-Israel relations.
It almost seemed as if many in Europe were waiting for an opportunity to rekindle the ugly specter of anti-Semitism, which had been largely isolated to eccentric and marginal cases over the years. The Gaza War gave the Muslim population in Europe a cause to rally around, while many latent, non-Muslim anti-Semites came out of the woodwork — almost as if they no longer needed to be cautious expressing their hatred of Jews. While most of the European governments condemned the verbal and property attacks against Jews, the return of Nazi symbols and slogans among demonstrators and vandals was chilling.
U.S.-Israel relations swung back and forth during the various phases of the war. In Washington, there was a constant anxiety as to whether it could tolerate whatever Israel would do next, especially as casualties mounted. In Israel, various officials made inappropriate attacks against American officials, many of whom were stuck trying to support Israel while seeking to maintain the credibility to negotiate with all parties. All of this was occurring as the United States was beginning to see Iraq implode and ISIS gaining a dramatic foothold in the region.
Geopolitically, Israel still faces numerous crises, beginning with Iran, although its relationship with Egypt does appear to have improved significantly. Israel now must begin, as early as the forthcoming UN General Assembly session, to repair bridges with many countries which were not moved by the Hamas shelling nor the discovery of dozens of tunnels burrowed into Israel from Gaza.
Prime Minister Netanyahu may well have a political hornet’s nest to deal with at home, but he must rise to a level of statesmanship which has always eluded him. Israel needs its prime minister to be a leader on the international stage, one who can articulate Israel’s concerns without enraging Israel’s friends. The prime minister must swallow some pride in his relationship with the Obama White House. Israel will always receive military support — thanks largely to Congress and the defense establishment — to meet its needs, but Israel must sustain America’s political backing and good will, something which has largely been lost between the two countries’ leaders over the past six years.
Israel’s need for safe and secure borders is well understood in Washington, but unnecessarily building or expanding settlements, especially now, puts petty domestic political considerations ahead of international and security needs. It suggests the prime minister may be emphasizing selfish personal pride and misperceived political needs at the expense of genuine leadership.