By Jonathan Adelman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of international Studies, University of Denver. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The Hamas leadership has claimed total victory in the truce that started the day before Thanksgiving after eight days of brutal warfare with Israel. And on the surface, this seems to make sense. Hamas evaded a punishing Israeli ground assault, gained diplomatic support from such new states as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, maintained its ties to Iran, developed an informal relationship with the United States, triumphed in the Palestinian world over the inactive Abu Mazen-run West Bank and proclaimed a sense of legitimacy from standing up to Israel throughout the Muslim and Arab world.
And yet, in the longer run, this “victory” will likely turn bitter and holds the seeds for its own destruction. For “terrorist victories” are almost always oxymorons. Militarily, Hamas, despite launching over 1,000 rockets at Israel and even occasionally reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was almost totally routed on the battlefield. All its rocketry killed 5 Israelis and wounded 200 others and, according to reports, failed to destroy or even damage a single Israeli military or civilian facility. Instead, Israel, with the newly developed Iron Dome, destroyed 80 percent to 90 percent of the incoming Hamas rockets that seemed likely to cause damage, while only 5 percent of Hamas rockets even hit any target. By contrast, the Israeli air force, navy and artillery forces hit more than 1,500 targets with overwhelmingly pinpoint precision.
Economically, the Israelis with their precise and massive strikes inflicted potentially billions of dollars worth of damage on Hamas related facilities, perhaps more than the entire Gaza GNP last year. Ultimately, Israel with its $32,000 GDP/capita (according to IMF figures) emerged relatively unscathed while Gaza, with a GDP per capita less than 10 percent of that, was devastated. Indeed, even before the mini-war, UNRWA estimated that 80 percent of the population was dependent on foreign help and over 90 percent of women had never held a job.
Politically, after the first bloom of the “victory” rapidly fades away, the bulk of Gazans are sure to be angry over the almost total failure of their government to protect them once again from mass devastation, the deaths of more than 150 people or even provide concrete shelters to protect them, or air raid sirens to warn them of attack. This contrasts vividly with Israeli sirens and concrete shelters allowing the population to survive the attacks.
Diplomatically, Hamas in the first round looks sure to gain. But, its association with Iran still remains less than tight, especially with Hamas’s denunciation of Syria (Iran’s only major Arab ally) and the ominous quiet of Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the arrival of numerous Arab and Middle Eastern diplomats may prove to be less than it seems on the surface. For Turkey will have to walk back much of its lashing out at Israel as a “terrorist state” guilty of war crimes if it wishes to have the bulk of its trade with the West. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while sympathetic to Hamas, have much more serious concerns in the long run—mainly the growing power of Iran which loathes them, and is rapidly closing in on having nuclear weapons to assert dominance in the region. And Egypt, despite the common Muslim Brotherhood tie with Hamas, desperately needs billions of dollars of American and Western economic aid for an economy at $2,900 GDP per capita (IMF).
At the end of the day, a government or entity must to survive meet Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The Hamas government, even when combined with that of the more prosperous West Bank, stands near the bottom in the world in GDP per capita and not much better in terms of exports. It cannot meet its people’s expectation of becoming a normal, economically viable and recognized state unless it moves away from the alluring, but ultimately empty confrontations with Israel. For these confrontations only leave it even more impoverished than before, and keep it from taking the road to peace and global integration. Until then, these “victories” will ultimately turn to ashes as Israel grows ever more economically and militarily stronger, and Hamas ever weak.