The relativity of victory and defeat in Israeli-Palestinian wars

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The criteria we adopt to assess victory or defeat in a war are rather complicated as they vary from one case to another. At times, victory is achieved by terminating the enemy and totally undermining its strength. This is the classical case where the victorious imposes his conditions of surrender on the loser. In other situations, one party can be considered victorious when it manages to hinder an enemy’s goals and create obstacles in the way of pursuing them.

In conventional warfare between regular armies it is easy to know who won and who lost, because the battle’s outcome is usually conclusive and clear. Whereas in unconventional wars, such as the ones between a group or a resistance movement and a regular army, the outcome is a grey area where every party claims the victory and celebrates the triumph.

The latest Gaza conflict was an illustration of unconventional warfare between Palestinian resistance movements and the Israeli army. Hamas, Jihad, Popular Front, Al-Nasser Salah Al-Din Brigades and other factions were facing an army that is ranked among the strongest armies in the world according to assessments by strategic studies centers. The Israeli army possesses the most advanced weapons in the world that are taken from Western military arsenals such as fighter jets, night vision tools, tanks and other state-of-the-art technology in the face of poorly equipped resistance movements.

The Palestinian factions are self-reliant. They make use of their experience and trickery to earnestly strive for bridging the gap with the enemy. They possess missiles that scare Israeli residents to death and use them as a deterrent tool against the enemy. The missiles are powerful messages to the enemy that the resistance intends to break the vicious circle of Israeli-Arab wars which is based on the famous Israeli strategy of setting up war zones on Arab lands, away from its territories. That is why, to encounter the horror of Israeli war planes, the resistance created the terror of missiles for Israeli citizens. However, the balance of power is in favour of Israel, unless the resistance develops its methods and capabilities within the framework of a comprehensive national strategy that can win people’s consensus.

Israel’s aggression on Gaza aimed at stopping the launching of missiles, breaking the resistance and forcing Hamas to disarm. But these aims were not achieved, and Israel had to accept a truce, so in this sense the resistance relatively won. The resistance did not only succeed in making all Israeli aims come to nothing, at least temporarily, but it also managed to narrow the gap in losses between the two conflicting parties compared to Israeli aggressions in 2009 and 2012. Nonetheless, this victory does not guarantee fulfilling the aims of the resistance in lifting the Gaza blockade, opening the crossings and the reconstruction of the strip, because these issues are still under discussion after the truce.

The difference between conventional and unconventional war is that in the former victory is achieved by dealing a fatal blow to the enemy. While a resistance movement, in an unconventional war, wins by scoring points. It wins a new point in each battle and makes a qualitative development in its capabilities. Once this is done, the resistance moves a step forward in its way to attain its goals, it confuses the enemy and forces it to think twice before venturing into another aggression. Each point won by the resistance puts more restrictions on the enemy as it suffers economic and human losses. In this way, the resistance will bear fruit eventually.

Abdel-Alim Mohamed is a counsellor at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.