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Palestinians close the main road between Bethlehem and Hebron during the funeral <240>of three Palestinians.<240> (MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)
Palestinians close the main road between Bethlehem and Hebron during the funeral <240>of three Palestinians.<240> (MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)

Why Hamas is winning the war Add to ...

On Tuesday morning, the leg of one man could still be seen dangling in the air, as the rest of his body was pinned inside the collapsed building. The Israeli military, no doubt, had no intention of causing such collateral damage. But at least 15 people, including three children, were killed in this targeted attack.

Hamas’s own battlefield accomplishments are not insignificant. Just as its arsenal of long-range missiles has taken the war to Israel’s civilians, Hamas’s tunnels and overall combat preparedness have taken the battle to the Israeli forces.

In the 22-day war that began at the end of 2008 and extended into early 2009, Hamas militants ran rather than fight. Not this time.

Israelis say they are astonished at the extent of the group’s tunnels and the determination of its fighting forces. The 35 Israeli officers and soldiers killed in fighting, mostly in the battle for control of the tunnels and the bloody battle of Shejaia, are testament to Hamas’s acquired skills. In the entire 2009 ground campaign, only eight Israeli soldiers were killed by resistance forces. (Four others died from friendly fire.)

If Hamas has uncovered any weakness in the Iron Dome system it is that a big enough salvo of rockets makes it more possible for at least one rocket to get through. And it only takes one.

Targeting Ben Gurion Airport east of Tel Aviv was also a shrewd move. Most rockets aimed in that direction either fell harmlessly in open areas, or were shot down by the Iron Dome. One, however, this past week, landed about a kilometre from the airport and destroyed a house. It was enough to cause a stampede of airlines cancelling service for at least 24 or 48 hours. Some still have declined to return.

The odds of a rocket hitting a moving plane are remote in the extreme, but hitting a building is conceivable, and airlines already were skittish because of the downing of a Malaysian aircraft over war-torn eastern Ukraine earlier in the week. Hamas chalked up another triumph.

The conflict has also exposed rifts in Israel. Gangs shouting “Death to Arabs” and “Death to Leftists” broke up a peaceful protest against Israel’s war in Gaza last Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square.

Witnesses say the goons then went on a rampage in the city’s downtown, even as Israeli troops were expanding their ground operation in Gaza.

Similar scenes were re-enacted during the past week in Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem, showing a sinister side to Israeli society. “As soldiers fight in Gaza, right-wing extremists have organized ad-hoc militias to fight the ‘war at home,’” noted Israeli political writer Asher Schechter, writing in Haaretz.

Such battles reveal a growing schism in Israeli society, a product of the war with Hamas and the issues that underlie it. Writing in this week’s Foreign Affairs magazine, Mr. Roth of the Israel Institute, noted that sowing discord in Israeli society, such as witnessed in the past two weeks, is one of several ways in which Hamas is winning this war.

While not in itself bringing Israel to its knees, such discord eats away at the cohesion that has given Israel its historic strength to face its enemies.

But it is in the strategic areas that Hamas has enjoyed its greatest success.

By holding out so resolutely, and turning down ceasefire proposals, Hamas has succeeded in putting its wish list before the world.

Mr. Meshaal, the Hamas political leader based in Qatar, presented the list to the public Thursday.

The people of Gaza, he said, want an internationally backed commitment to ending Israel’s siege of Gaza and the targeted killings it carries out inside Gaza. They want an international airport, a seaport, an opening to the outside world. They don’t want the situation where they are “controlled by a few border crossings that turn Gaza into a huge prison, where no one can leave even for medical treatment or to work.”

If Hamas is offered those things, or a good number of them, its leaders say they’ll stop firing at Israel. A growing number of people around the world don’t think those demands are unreasonable.

Israel thought that by abandoning Gaza in 2005, pulling out all Israeli settlers and soldiers, and building a wall around it, Israel would enjoy quiet.

This war has shown that such an approach won’t ever be successful.

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