Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Understanding Why Great Palestinian Victories Are Worse Than Defeats

...But just as Arafat kept sacrificing the living Palestinians for the sake of his own idea of Palestine as he jetted around the world, Hamas leaders will ruthlessly sacrifice the people of Gaza for Islam, not without rewards for themselves (Gulf money is pouring in) to assuage the pain. The tranquility of the West Bank, and the loyalty of Israel’s Arab citizens throughout 50 days of hard to watch fighting, show that they know very well what Hamas has to offer: death, destruction, and failure.

Edward N. Luttwak..
16 September '14..

As soon as the shooting in Gaza stopped on Aug. 26, Hamas leaders came out of hiding to declare that they had won a great victory in their 50-day war with Israel—the 2014 Gaza war, which had been preceded by the Gaza wars of 2008 and 2012, which they had also declared to be great victories. In each war, the fierce-looking, black-clad, martyrdom-seeking Islamic warriors of Hamas were badly outclassed in hand-to-hand combat by seriously trained Israeli conscripts, while its rockets were mostly ineffectual, unlike Israeli artillery and air power. But Hamas certainly attracted worldwide sympathy by encouraging the photographing of dead and maimed bodies in al-Shifa Hospital, which the organization used as a briefing room and command post—and very few seemed to blame Hamas for starting it all, or even for the considerable number of children as well as adults killed by its own defective rockets. While both U.S. and European officials did blame Hamas for the war, they also deplored the “disproportionate” Israeli response—meaning that many more Palestinians died in the fighting.

As for the consequences of the 2014 Gaza war, only the future will tell. But in the meantime we can learn a lot from the outcomes of past Palestinian victories, which really do amount to a remarkable record of success—except for their final results.

One of the very greatest of all Palestinian victories was the invitation extended to Yasser Arafat to address the General Assembly of the United Nations on Nov. 13, 1974, an act that implied his recognition as the paramount leader of the Palestinians, fully empowered to represent them before the world and then to lead them once they acquired their state. And that, Arafat had made perfectly clear, was a Palestine that would include all of Israel—for it was not just the results of the recent 1967 war that Arafat and the PLO wanted to reverse, but rather those of the 1948-1949 war. In a speech that was frequently interrupted by vehement applause, Arafat repeatedly defined Israel and Zionism as imperialist, colonialist, aggressive, and racist, but not before thanking those who had striven hard to secure his invitation, including the Algerians and Kurt Waldheim, secretary general of the United Nations.

Both men could count themselves as very fortunate to have made it that far. Waldheim had loyally served in the Balkans during World War II on the staff of Gen. Alexander Löhr who was later executed for war crimes and might easily have shared his fate, instead of reaching the top at the United Nations by way of an Austrian diplomatic and political career (he knew nothing of the killings of partisans and Jews of course, not till long after the war). As for Arafat, a mere six years earlier he had been an almost unknown guerrilla leader when he was catapulted to fame and fortune by his victory over the Israeli army at Karameh on March 21, 1968. A year earlier the Israeli army had swiftly defeated the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Days War of June 1967, so that the battle of Karameh was eagerly represented in the media as having shattered “the myth of Israeli invicibility”—the BBC just could not get enough of that story. Money and volunteers arrived to swell the ranks of Arafat’s movement Fath or Fatah (“conquest”), while Arab states offered their diplomatic support, launching Arafat on a trajectory of success that finally brought him to his apotheosis in New York.


Edward N. Luttwak, a military strategist and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the author of, most recently, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy.

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