Why both Israel and Hamas are claiming victory

Why both Israel and Hamas are claiming victory

17:55 - As a cease fire between Israel and Hamas on Thursday night quieted the skies over the Gaza Strip and nearby Israeli cities, both sides claimed triumph.

The 11-day conflict left more than 240 Gazans and 12 residents of Israel dead, according to local officials, and much of Gaza in shambles.

In Gaza, the toll of the fourth such conflict since 2009 was devastating and the destruction vast. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 258 buildings in Gaza were completely destroyed in the fighting. Everything from health-care facilities to water and sanitation infrastructure to power lines also suffered damage from the strikes.

But Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and other, smaller militant groups such as Islamic Jihad boasted of what they said was a “humiliating defeat” for Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular.

Despite Israel’s punishing assault, the groups maintained a steady barrage of rocket fire from Gaza — lobbing as many as 4,300 projectiles, according to the Israeli military, and reaching as far as Tel Aviv. The bombardment, which rights groups say is a war crime, brought daily life to a standstill in some Israeli communities and was seen by many in Gaza as a legitimate response to perceived Israeli abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem.

For Hamas, Israel may have once again inflicted heavy losses — both on the movement and on civilians in Gaza — but the group remains in control of the territory of some 2 million people and little has fundamentally changed.

“This is the euphoria of victory,” Khalil al-Hayya, a senior member of Hamas’s political bureau, told a crowd of thousands in Gaza City early Friday after the cease fire went into effect.

“We have the right to rejoice, despite the pain, wounds, destroyed homes and martyrs,” said al-Hayya, the Hamas leader. “I say in the name of our Palestinian people, we will build the homes destroyed by the occupation. We will return a smile and hope to the bereaved.”

Support for the Palestinian cause has also risen as Gaza residents have documented the scale of the devastation in real time on social media. While the violence of the past 11 days is nothing new, numerous observers have noted that the tone of the discourse in the United States and other Western nations has changed. President Biden has come under intense pressure to take a tougher stance against Israel, reflecting a larger shift within the Democratic Party.

Israel, for its part, has long relied on a tactic known as “mowing the grass” when dealing with Palestinian militants in Gaza — meaning that it periodically carries out operations aimed at weakening Hamas’s military capabilities, rather than trying to destroy the group entirely.

Successful hits on rocket launchers and weapons manufacturing facilities mean that Israel can claim to have achieved its goals, even though Hamas remains in power.

Netanyahu on Friday hailed Israel’s 11-day bombardment of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza as an “exceptional success,” after a cease fire to end the deadly conflict took effect.

“We achieved our goals in the operation,” Netanyahu said of the campaign primarily targeted at Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, and Islamic Jihad, the second largest armed group in the enclave.

The hawkish premier said “the public doesn’t know everything” about Israel’s gains in the operation “and neither does Hamas.”

While some Israelis would have liked to see Hamas toppled, experts argue that the lack of a decisive winner doesn’t amount to a loss, since Israel’s strategy is to wage a long-term campaign of deterrence.

“The success of a campaign of this sort will be measured only over time, not by raising the flag on an imagined Iwo Jima in the sands of the Gaza Strip,” defense analyst Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz. “There will not be a clear, resounding victory here.”

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