The war that Israel joined today is superficially concerned with stopping Hamas’ rocket fire, but substantially it is much more important than that. It is Israel’s biggest military engagement since the 2006 Hezbollah war, and therefore it will be a retroactive judgment on that engagement.
The 2006 war re-defined the concept of Arab victory against Israel. Hezbollah is perceived as having won not because it displayed military superiority over Israel, killed more IDF soldiers than the IDF killed Hezbollah, or drove the IDF out of Lebanon through force of arms. The perception is due to a more modest metric: Hezbollah’s ability to thwart Israel from accomplishing the objectives the government announced at the beginning of the war, and Hezbollah’s ability to maintain a consistent level of rocket fire throughout the war.
Hamas, like Hezbollah, is a member of the Iranian-allied resistance bloc of the Middle East, and is an adherent to this new definition of Arab victory. Hamas believes that, like Hezbollah, it will be victorious if it can sustain its attacks on Israel despite the Israeli campaign to stop them. And like Hezbollah, Hamas will seek a cessation of hostilities that will be called victory so long the cessation is accomplished in the context of Israel’s inability to stop Hamas’ rockets. Such a cease-fire is possible, Hamas believes, because Israel is a superpower with feet of clay, technologically powerful but spiritually weak and quickly cowed by international condemnation.
Israel’s job is not necessarily to topple Hamas rule — that would be a tall order, being that there is no competent Fatah force to replace Hamas in Gaza — but to humiliate the swaggering resistance, to kill as many of its leaders and militants as possible, and to demonstrate to Hamas’ allies that the IDF and Israeli government learned the right lessons from the 2006 war. This will require more strikes like those of this morning, and it will require the IDF to stop Hamas’ rocket fire — either through military dominance, or by forcing Hamas to conclude that it must cease its attacks lest its rule be terminated. The former is much more likely than the latter.