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Israel's Assault on Gaza Only Gave It a Black Eye and Strengthened Hamas

Israel accomplished its military goals, but lost badly in the political arena.

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And it's an assault that Israel will likely repeat again in the next couple of years, as Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center pointed out in the New Yorker. “In Israel, they talk of 'mowing the lawn' in Gaza, a callous idiom used to refer to the periodic bombardment of a besieged territory in the hopes of reducing the capacity of militant groups every few years. Each time they 'mow,' however, they sow seeds of hatred for the next generation,” Munayyer wrote. “How successful, morally or militarily, is a war whose repetition is planned?”

Beyond the military question is how Israel looks to the world coming out of this assault. The Israeli government has put a lot of resources into branding Israel as a progressive, liberal place, but the continued occupation and human rights abuses are quite clear to those who look closely. And now the death toll in Gaza will further blacken Israel's image. After eight days of pummeling the Gaza Strip, an estimated 136 Palestinians died—including 91 civilians, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Twenty-eight children and 13 women were killed during the offensive, and the overwhelming majority of the nearly 1,000 Palestinians injured were civilian as well.

Perhaps the lasting image that will motivate activists and lawyers to push for Israeli accountability for potential war crimes again is the killing of the al-Dalou family. Twelve members of the same family were wiped out by an Israeli air strike that the military says was meant for the head of Hamas' rocket-launching unit. As the Haaretz reporter Avi Issacharoff noted, “just as the pictures showing the results of the Israeli bombing of Kafr Qana in July 2006 changed the face of the Second Lebanon War and turned world public opinion against the Israeli operation, in the same way the bombardment of the house in Gaza and the killing of all 12 of its residents is liable to elicit Arab, European and, above all, American pressure on Israel to stop the aerial attacks immediately.”

Whether efforts to hold Israel accountable for the killing are successful, though, is another question, given the U.S. role in shielding Israel from any attempt to achieve justice for war crimes.

The Israeli assault on Gaza over the past week was also the first major test of how the Arab uprisings changed the Israeli regional position. While the Israeli nightmare of an “Islamist winter” with dire consequences for the state coming to pass seems overblown, the new Middle East did flex its muscles, albeit for their own interests. Egypt and Tunisia, longtime U.S. allies in the midst of a revolutionary process that brought Islamists more sympathetic to Hamas to power, sent high-level delegations to express solidarity with the people of Gaza as the Israeli onslaught wore on. Turkey's prime minister, still angry over Israel's 2010 killing of nine Turks on board a Gaza aid flotilla, called Israel a “terrorist state.”

These were powerful symbols of a new Middle East, though to Israel's comfort, the rhetoric never turned into drastic action. Egypt has been walking a tightrope, with Israel and the U.S. on one side and Hamas on the other. All players in the region have been bearing down on the Egyptian state. Compounding the Egyptian predicament was the fact that they wanted stability in the region as a way to help repair their reeling economy. But Egypt did come out of the Israeli assault with renewed prestige, as it used its contacts with Hamas to encourage the group to reach a ceasefire. The terms of the agreement point to Egypt as the guarantor.

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