I simply do not understand how anyone could believe that the Israeli military operations in Gaza would result in the overthrow of Hamas:
If there is any significant disenchantment with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, it is largely hidden behind the fear that many feel in speaking out against the group.
In dozens of interviews across Gaza on Friday, less than a week after the start of a tenuous cease-fire, Palestinians generally expressed either unbridled support for Hamas or resignation to the idea that the group’s reign in Gaza will continue for the foreseeable future. No one suggested that the group is vulnerable, despite the hopes of some Israeli officials who have theorized that their military campaign could ultimately spur Palestinians to rise up against Hamas rule.
Hamas’s resilience as the preeminent power in Gaza reflects the Islamist movement’s success in consolidating its authority long before the war began, analysts say. It also underscores the dividends that any Palestinian group can earn by standing up to Israel, no matter how disastrous the consequences. Hamas vowed to kill hundreds of Israelis, but Israel’s final death toll was 13, including three civilians who died as a result of the persistent rocket fire from Gaza that Israel says prompted the war.
“I hope Hamas gets more and more power and launches more and more rockets. I ask God to keep them strong,” said Abed Abu Jalhoum, 45, her face framed by a black head scarf and her feet bare as she sat on a cinder block in what was once her living room but is now only a floor with one crumbling, concrete wall.
Way back when, there were two theories about how strategic bombing could cause the collapse of governments. The first was that such bombing could disrupt the coercive capacity of the government in question, destroying the police and administrative infrastructure that kept the population in check. This concept made some sense in the wake of the Russian and abortive German revolutions, when it seemed that restless urban proletariat populations were always on the edge of revolt, and that simply “taking the lid off,” so to speak, would be sufficient to bring down a target government.
The second theory was that populations under bombardment would blame their own governments for failing to protect them. There’s a certain social contract logic to this; bombing indicates that whatever the government is doing right now is insufficient to keep me safe, and since the state has broken its contract with me I’m consequently going to break my contract with it. In a sense, this is the bourgeois counterpart to the Marxist account given above; instead of enabling a seething proletariat hungry for revolution, bombing would convince shopkeepers, housewives, office workers, and so forth that government policy needed to be changed.
We know that neither of these hypotheses are sound. We know this as surely as we can know anything in social science; after seventy years of experimentation, bombing has yet to enable the seething revolutionaries or mobilize the urban/suburban bourgeois. Urban society is far more robust than the theorists of strategic bombing believed (robust in both its productive capacity and in its social cohesion), and the bourgeois invariably seems to blame the bombers more than its own government.
And yet we have Operation Cast Lead, which combined aerial bombing with coercive ground raids that amounted to the same thing. The IDF set out to test both of the above hypotheses, trying to destroy as much of Hamas coercive capacity as possible while attempting to inflict enough pain on the civilian population to spark an uprising. From a strategic point of view, the best that can be hoped for, perhaps, is that the IDF didn’t believe its own rhetoric about weakening Hamas’ grip on Gaza. The 2006 war, for all of its failures, at least resulted in a Hezbollah more hesitant about attacking Israel, although the price was a much more powerful, prestigious, and secure organization. By the same token, Hamas may be more reluctant to lob handfuls of ineffectual rockets into Israel, but its price for such discretion will be an iron grip on Gaza, and improved prospects for control of the West Bank.
That’s not, to my mind, a sensible exchange on Israel’s part.
…in comments, Eurosabra asks:
What if the objective was just to destroy enough of the Hamas C&C personnel and infrastructure to delay the development of a large-scale long-range (Grad & Zelzal) missile threat to central Israel? Preventing the transition to a multiple-tens-of-thousands-of-rockets threat to Be’ersheva and tens of rockets that could reach Tel Aviv? And if Hamas is willing to try for escalation dominance in a transition from Qassams to Grads to Zelzals, why should Israel tolerate it or care about Gazan civilian casualties?
If that was the Israeli objective, then I don’t see any indication that it’s been achieved. The IDF campaign does not seem to have been geared towards such an objective (why you would need to destroy police stations to delay a missile threat is beyond me), and given that a)Hamas remains in control, and b) smuggling continues, there’s not much reason to believe that Hamas couldn’t continue to pursue an escalation strategy.
Beyond that, I have another objection. More effective weapons tend to be more effective because they’re more sophisticated, more expensive, and require a larger support infrastructure. Both of the missile systems Eurosabra mentions fit this description. If Hamas started to use such weapons, its factories, smuggling points, and launch sites would be correspondingly more vulnerable to Israeli counterattack. Indeed, one reason that Hamas continues to use the Qassam is that the other alternatives are too costly and too dangerous to employ with any frequency. Escalation wouldn’t grant Hamas “dominance”, but would increase Hamas’ military vulnerability. Hamas probably knows this, but even if they don’t now they would quickly find out shortly after missiles started to land in Tel Aviv. Short of possession of a nuclear weapon (and if you believe that Iran would give Hamas a nuke, you’re an idiot), Hamas cannot deter Israeli military action.
Finally, while it may be true that Israel will incur international disapproval no matter what it does in Gaza, it doesn’t follow that the international community is wholly oblivious to the actual circumstances of the conflict. After you get past the “But Israel is under attack1!!!11!! What if Mexicans started lobbing rockets into El Paso!1?!???!! What then?!?!??!”, it’s hard not to notice that Hamas rockets kill fewer people in a decade than are killed in Tel Aviv traffic accidents in a day. If Hamas could pose a significant military threat to Israel, then Operation Cast Lead (or a better conceived alternative that focused more on military and less on infrastructure targets) would be more understandable.