The mood in Israel during the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war is markedly different from the mood in the wake of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Things felt precarious and vulnerable then. Confidence in both the government and the military disintegrated. When Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared his “divine victory,” many, if not most, Israelis shuddered and thought he might be correct. This time, by contrast, I didn’t meet a single Israeli who thinks Hamas defeated the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is nowhere near finished, and the problems in Gaza will endure for a long time, but the Israeli military and government spent two and a half years intensely studying what went wrong in Lebanon in 2006 and corrected nearly all those mistakes. Most Israelis I spoke to in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week feel a tremendous sense of relief and seem more at ease than they have been in years.
The results speak for themselves. The IDF wasn’t able to halt or even disrupt Hezbollah’s Katyusha rocket attacks on Israeli cities in July and August of 2006, but Hamas’s ability to fire its own crude rockets was reduced by almost 75 percent. According to Major General Eitan Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas fired 75 rockets per day at the beginning of the war, 35 rockets per day in the middle of the war, and only 20 rockets per day at the end. At the same time, Hamas was only able to inflict a tenth as many casualties on Israeli civilians and soldiers as Hezbollah did in 2006. During the final ten days of the war, again according to Ben-Eliyahu, Hamas did not kill a single Israeli. Ismail Haniyeh’s predictable declaration of “victory” could hardly sound more empty if he delivered his boast from inside a prison cell.
I wouldn’t characterize the mood in Israel as optimistic. That would be a mistake. Few people I know in any Middle Eastern country feel optimistic about the future of their country or the region in general. But confidence in the Israeli government and military has been restored. While a final peace with the Arabs and Palestinians is as elusive as ever, most Israelis expect a period of relative quiet now that deterrence has been established on its eastern border with the West Bank, on its northern border with Lebanon, and on its southwestern border with Gaza.
The status quo balance of terror between Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah is less bad now than it was, and that’s as much as anyone should hope for in the Middle East. That may sound like a gloomy prognosis to Americans and Europeans, but it’s a relief to those who understand that no one knows how to map a way out.