Why Israel Defeated—But Didn’t Crush—Hamas

Soon after an open-ended Israel-Hamas ceasefire came into effect at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, some still-living Hamas leaders rose out of the bunkers where they had been hiding out for weeks and led some Gazans in “victory celebrations.”

Here in Israel, we pray that we will never hold such victory celebrations.

Some of the figures from the seven weeks of war—so far, if the ceasefire holds—include:

On the side of Hamas and Gaza: about 2000 dead (about half of them fighters including members of the top Hamas command), a few hundred thousand people displaced or homeless, about 11,000 homes, schools, and mosques destroyed, 32 attack tunnels costing millions of dollars and years of labor destroyed, and about 2500 mostly shorter-range rockets remaining out of what had been 10,000.

On Israel’s side: 70 dead (64 of them soldiers), some mild, passing economic damage, vastly smaller totals of property damage, and vastly smaller numbers of Gaza-area Israelis leaving their homes temporarily or, in some cases, moving to other parts of the country.

Added to all that is the fact that the ceasefire deal reached on Tuesday is the same one Hamas could have had in early July before most of the destruction was wreaked, and that it grants none of Hamas’s major demands: an airport, a seaport, and prisoner releases. Instead Israel agreed to reopen Gaza border crossings—something it would have done in any case, since it does not want to deny Gazans basic goods and cause severe crises—and to a slight expansion of the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast.

A hands-down win for Israel, then?

Not if you ask a lot of Israelis—particularly right-wing cabinet ministers and other right-wing critics of the government, and embittered residents of the Gaza-bordering towns and villages.

These critics say that the government passed up a big chance to allow the army to finish off Hamas once and for all, and that Hamas’s rearmament and a further round of fighting—probably sooner rather than later—are inevitable. Gaza-area residents say that, after 14 years of enduring rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, they are not prepared to tolerate any more “drizzles” from Gaza leading up to major bombardments.

Why, then, did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon not order the IDF to simply eliminate Hamas, which no one doubts it is capable of doing?