Gwynne Dyer: Nobody wins the Gaza War

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      “They began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over,” as Lewis Carrol put it in Alice in Wonderland. He was describing the Caucus Race, but it sounds quite a lot like the Gaza War, doesn’t it? What's different is that at the end of the Caucus Race, the Dodo Bird declared: “Everybody has won, so all must have prizes.”

      After nine days of more-or-less cease-fire, they’re at it again. In the first 24 hours, 60 Palestinian rockets had been launched at Israel (no casualties), and 60 Israeli air strikes had hit Gaza (11 dead). That’s pretty small beer in a war that has already killed more than 2,000 people, but they literally don’t know how to stop, and the Dodo Bird is no help at all. The fact is that nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

      That’s what the negotiations in Cairo were actually about: prizes. Hamas leaders in Gaza were demanding an end to the Israeli blockade of the territory and the opening of air and sea ports in the Gaza Strip. They also wanted over 200 Hamas members in the West Bank who had been arrested just before the start of this war to be released. They might as well have asked for the Moon.

      Hamas has fired almost 6,000 of its homemade rockets at Israel since the start of the war, but it has killed only two Israeli civilians (plus one Thai guest-worker). It doesn’t represent even a serious danger to Israel, let alone an existential threat. So why would any sane Palestinian negotiator think that Israel would feel compelled to make major concessions to Hamas in order to make the pain stop?

      The Israeli negotiators were equally deluded. They understandably dismissed all of Hamas’s demands, but then they made equally ludicrous demands of their own. They wanted Hamas and all other militant Palestinian organisations in the Gaza Strip to be completely disarmed. That would not only end any possibility that the Palestinians could exert military pressure on Israel; it would also quite soon end Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.

      Why would Hamas agree with that? Over 2,000 people have been killed and more than 8,000 injured by Israel’s strikes on the Gaza Strip, but that’s less than one percent of the population. Moreover, when the Israeli army actually invaded Gaza on the ground (to destroy the famous “terror tunnels”), Hamas fighters managed to kill 64 Israeli soldiers.

      That was a particularly futile waste of Israeli lives, since it is hard to believe that 64 of Israel’s troops would ever have been killed by random Hamas fighters coming out of undiscovered tunnels from time to time. Ordinary Israelis, with nightmare visions of terrorists popping up in their gardens, have bought the official line that the sacrifice was worthwhile, but none of the tunnels actually extended more than a couple of kilometres beyond Gaza’s border.

      The Palestinians doubtless think that killing more Israeli soldiers than in the previous two wars combined was some sort of success, even if they lost many more fighters themselves, but in the real world it does not give them any military advantage. So no concessions from either side of any kind.

      This was quite foreseeable from the first day of the war, because that’s the way the last two wars ended too. They have all been fought mainly to serve the domestic political interests of the two governments, rather than to force real concessions out of the other.

      Hamas’s strategic situation is peculiar: it is very weak and cannot hurt Israel, but it is virtually indestructible. Israel can hammer the population of the Gaza Strip as much as it likes, but that will only strengthen their support for Hamas. Whereas Israel is enormously powerful, but cannot defeat Hamas unless it is willing to re-occupy the Gaza Strip, which would lead to a steady and ultimately intolerable drain of casualties among the occupying Israeli troops.

      The moves in this relationship are as stately and predictable as a minuet. When Hamas is under political pressure at home and needs a distraction, it launches a few rockets at Israel or provides some other provocation that the Israeli government cannot ignore. Then the Israeli government, under irresistible domestic pressure to “do something”, launches some air-strikes, and the dance of death recommences.

      Stopping is more difficult, because there’s no music to give you the signal by coming to an end. In terms of domestic politics, both sides have already accomplished what they came for, but since neither can acknowledge publicly that that’s all the war was really about, they end up raising wholly unrealistic demands at the cease-fire talks. That’s why the negotiations in Cairo ended in failure: nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

      Now that the shooting has started up again, there may be a few more hundred deaths, but probably not another thousand, because the fighting really is going to end soon. It just won’t end with a political deal, and perhaps not even with a formal cease-fire. More likely it will just sort of peter out, like these things sometimes do. Until next time.



      SPY vs SPY

      Aug 20, 2014 at 3:08pm

      Gwynne - You're wrong - Israel won and will keep on Winning

      The real name of the War Game - Is the complete and total destruction and removal of the Palestinian People in Palestine.

      This is Israels Final Solution and Only Solution

      This has always been Israels Ultimate Objective since The Generals Invaded the West Bank and Gaza without the approval of the Israeli Government.

      Neither Israel or the rest of the World will use the Word Genocide when it comes to Israels objectives in Gaza and the West Bank - However that is what it is.

      Palestinians have Three choices as decreed by Israeli Popular Opinion and the Government:

      SUBMIT - LEAVE OR DIE - Israels preferred options are - LEAVE OR DIE

      Israel is working on a One Hundred Year Plan - That is to make life Intolerable and Impossible for every Palestinian - to the point that Palestinians just give up on any hope of having a State of their own and leave.

      Israel always wins and will keep on winning until someone stops them -

      In the future - Hundreds of Thousands of Israelis will Invade the West Bank and build homes there - There will be more Rockets Launched from Gaza and Israel will continue to celebrate the Slaughter of Thousands of Palestinian Children and Women.

      Palestinian Children are what Israel really Hates and Fears

      Children - The Palestinians of the Futre

      S H

      Aug 20, 2014 at 8:05pm

      Spot on. The only rewards are reconstruction projects.

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      Aug 20, 2014 at 11:52pm

      Spy Vs Spy - Genocide can be achieved as it is being done by ISIS in Iraq and Syria: by rounding up the perceived enemy and slaughtering them. That has not been done in this situation, nor will it ever be. Don't you think if Genocide was Israels goal this would have happened years ago. Instead Israelis have tried to make this situation work out. They left Gaza, look who violently took over.

      Why do you think Egypt is keeping it's border locked. Don't you think if Genocide was the goal that Egypt would open the border to let the innocent people in? They are not doing so because they understand that Hamas is a violent organization willing to sacrifice their own people for pointless political goals.

      Your whole comment is delusional. A " 100 year plan" to make life "intolerable" does not equate to genocide. You are part of the problem by being a low information commentator. The facts are all there if you read them. What sucks is that innocent people have to suffer for these ego maniacs on both sides. I suggest you read " My Life" by Bill Clinton. He talks in great detail about how he finally realized, that after 8 years of working with Arafat, that Arafat was more interested in his own icon status than he was in helping his people have a better life. Unfortunately, Arafat's spirit lives on.

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      Aug 21, 2014 at 10:10am


      Your Hasbara doesn't cut it.

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      Aug 21, 2014 at 10:38am


      Please explain your comment.


      Aug 21, 2014 at 10:51am

      @ HA
      I looked up the word Hasbara. I have no interest in PR. I live in the US and I read books. So now that I understand your comment,I see its not actually an educated comment, just a personal dig. You have to read more than Internet based op-ed's to know what is going on in your world. And it also will help you in making educated comments on serious world issues. Above all else, let's visualize peace! You don't have to read a book to be able to do that.

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      Aug 21, 2014 at 11:25am

      An interesting perspective on this latest Israel-Palestine conflict (and all of the others that came before it). It seems that while the fighting is quite awful and the toll in human lives intolerable (at least to someone looking at it from the outside) it is actually not awful enough to actually compel either party to *do* anything. Hamas' rockets don't really threaten Israel, so they won't change their policy, and it would take a lot more damage for Hamas to even consider disarming as a viable option.

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      Aug 21, 2014 at 11:34am

      Gwynne provides us with a rather facile analysis of the Gaza conflict by speculating on the motives of the belligerents and their inability to find a resolution. We are left with the impression that the "WAR" was 'unwinnable' by either side so it was all very irrational, pointless and futile, nevertheless we can expect more of the same in the future. Seems pretty reasonable on the face of it except what was left unsaid.
      The Israeli's cynically consider these episodic, repetitive, wholesale destruction of Palestine akin to the routine of "cutting the grass" in their front ,yard by killing the incremental growth of the population and demolishing their rebuilt homes.
      The governments of NATO countries condone the murderous Israeli onslaught either by their silence or by saying that the Israeli's "have a right to defend themselves."[Since when does a land thief ,occupier, or conquering oppressor have a moral or legal right to defend themselves from the persecuted and disposed victims when they retaliate in their own self defence?] The U.S. even provides the money [free arms and munitions]to kill these people yet pretends to play the role of peaceful mediator. The Egyptian dictator won't allow the people to escape the slaughterhouse so he can get his yearly paycheque from the US. The Israeli's show their contempt for the UN by bombing humanitarian refuges and UN does protest and does nothing about it.
      From this we might conclude that nobody of importance cares about the plight of the Palestinians, except those people of conscience who went out to protest against their treatment yet their opinion is of no consequence to the "powers that be". Moreover the"powers that be" have been captured by powerful Jewish lobbies in their respective countries and Zionist propaganda has won over the minds and hearts of many people.
      But let's not forget Israeli's are lead by ruthless, racist megalomaniac's and they have nuclear weapons. They might just use them to mow the grass further away! Pity and support the Palestinians in their just cause and sanction Isreal for it's inhuman actions!

      SPY vs SPY

      Aug 21, 2014 at 12:02pm

      Definition - DENIAL

      1 An assertion that an allegation is false

      2 Refusal to believe a doctrine, theory

      3 Disavowal or repudiation

      Israel was accepted as a Nation by the UN in 1949 - that was 65 years ago.

      Mr/Ms LovePeace - How many more Israelis will move into the Palestine (The West Bank) in the next 35 years???

      How much more land Owned by Palestinians will be confiscated at Gun Point to build homes for the next 100,000 - 200,000 Israelis who will move into Militarily Occupied Land in the West Bank in the next 35 years???

      How many more residents of Gaza will leave or die in the next 35 years???

      There you are - the One Hundred Year Plan

      All Bill Clinton wanted from Arafat - was to admit defeat and then for Arafat to convince all Palestinians that they should give up all hope of ever having a State or Equal Rights in Israel.

      Geoffrey Pounder

      Aug 21, 2014 at 2:40pm

      Bloodied and dismembered Palestinian children—victims of cynicism on all sides. It makes one ashamed to be a member of the human race.
      Ordinary Canadians may not be able to influence events from afar. But we need not accept disgraceful behavior from our spineless politicians at home.
      The Conservatives and Liberals are lost causes. But one expects more from Canada's social democratic party.
      The NDP's failure to call Israel to account for its repeated war crimes over the last decade makes them complicit.
      By failing to condemn Israeli war crimes, the NDP is providing Israel political cover.
      If the NDP fails to condemn Israel's reprehensible policy (Dahiya doctrine) of targetting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, it is giving the green light to continued war crimes—not just in Gaza, but around the world.
      The NDP invokes Israel's right to defend itself, as if Israel were the victim of Palestinian aggression, and not the other way around. What about the Palestinians' right to defend themselves?
      The NDP invokes Israel's "right to exist", as if Palestinians have no right to resist dispossession, occupation, oppression, blockade, economic strangulation, and brutality. What about the Palestinians' right to exist?
      Mulcair claims to be in favor of a two-state solution. Surely he knows that Netanyahu is doing everything in his power to prevent it.
      "As NDP leader, Jack Layton argued that Canada must engage partners for peace in the region and take a balanced and principled approach. This is a vision I share." (Mulcair Aug 10 2014)
      "C’est pourquoi je suis un ardent supporter de toutes les instances et de toutes les circonstances d’Israël." "I am an ardent supporter of Israel in all situations and in all circumstances." (Mulcair 2008))
      Does that sound "balanced" to you?
      Look at the images of bloodied children in Gaza. The NDP's stance is obscene.
      Nothing excuses war crimes, on either side. No number of Hamas rockets justifies Israeli war crimes.
      So why are you supporting war criminals, Mr Mulcair?
      How do you sleep at night?