01/13/2009, 00.00
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War in Gaza: a lot of bloodshed for limited results

by Fady Noun
The conflict between Israel and Hamas appears to be at a stalemate. For Kadima there are a few successes and more support in Israel in view of the elections. For Hamas surviving is itself a “victory.” The civilian population however is the one paying the price.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Every military expert will say that the greatest danger in the current situation in Gaza is that both actors involved in the conflict have put themselves in the worst possible situation so that neither can pull back without losing face. Yet can they go on?

With his back against the wall Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas, has nothing to lose, a Lebanese military expert said. After seeing all his institutions wiped out, any stop now would mean losing all political and military credibility.

For Haniyeh going on would mean preventing Israel from winning, dragging on the conflict in the hope that the psychological pressure of world public opinion will stop the offensive.

This is why Hamas is trying to draw Israel into urban warfare in which the latter cannot use heavy artillery or the air force because of the close proximity of combatants on either side.

In the streets of Gaza Hamas can win even if Palestinian casualties will be high.

Indeed Israel’s government is wavering. Its leaders know that an offensive against Hamas’ urban strongholds “will be no cakewalk” so to speak, that it will be costly in human terms.

The challenges on the ground are clear. After seizing the territory’s main roads, Israel’s army has not made any headway in Gaza’s small streets.

It has had to settle for brief attacks against some key Hamas targets where it has had to practically demolish every building in sight with a heart-wrenching loss of civilian life.

But for Israel this approach has a double advantage. It creates the illusion that it is advancing and is keeping human casualties low.

Any major offensive would cause in fact major loss of life and a massive exodus of the population of Gaza or even genocide.

Under such circumstances how can Israel’s call up for reservists be understood? According to the aforementioned source, the call-up is designed to counterbalance the effect on the adversary of the negotiations currently underway in Cairo, where diplomats from the main powers are meeting. The message is two-fold, military and diplomatic.

Never the less for the expert, such a step is not going to intimidate Hamas; reservists must be well-trained to be of any use and this is not the case as the 2006 Lebanon War clearly demonstrated.

It is clear that the situation is also a conundrum for the mediators who want to find a way out, a ‘win-win’ situation, or at least achieve a draw.

Israel could claim victory if it met some of its objectives (and gain some more votes for the governing party, already up in the polls); Hamas could do the same if it prevented Israel from achieving all its objectives, first and foremost the elimination of Hamas itself.

At present Egypt is hopeful that a ceasefire deal can be struck before the end of the week. But one question remains: Was all the death, destruction and suffering really necessary?

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