Claude Salhani
The Middle East Times (Opinion)
January 20, 2009 - 1:00am

The 23-day war in Gaza ended almost as abruptly as it began. And it ended in a way that allows for both sides in the conflict to declare victory. That is an important point if the parties involved aspire to move forward toward peace. This is where the lessons of the June, 1967 Six-Day War are important.
A little bit of history. After Israel launched a preemptive strike in the face of a build-up of Arab armies that threatened to attack it, and after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the United Nations observers out of the Sinai, victory in this war was clear-cut; the spoils of war went to Israel. During those six days the Israeli army captured the entire Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. Next, they took the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan and they captured the Golan Heights from Syria.

These victories for the newly founded state of Israel just 19 years earlier gave the Jewish state an immense morale boost (not to mention additional territories).

But this amazing victory for Israel and the humiliating defeat for the Arab world came with a heavy price. The Arab defeat was so intense and the humiliation so deep among Arabs that peace between the two sides became an impossibility unless some of the humiliation suffered by the Arabs was first partially absolved.

And how to absolve it? Through another war. That's where the next Arab-Israeli war comes in – the October 1973 War, also known as the Yom Kippur War.

The peace which came in the years following the October War – the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel under the leadership of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin - would have never been possible without the October War, and the atoning of the 1967 defeat.

Indeed, all ensuing wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors allowed an exit clause in which the Arabs were able to turn defeat into victory. That was the case in the next major confrontation between the antagonists in the Middle East conflict: the invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 1982 that led to the expulsion of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon and its exile to Tunisia.

Yet despite the clear-cut defeat for the Palestinians, PLO leader Yasser Arafat using great theatrics, turned his forced exit from Lebanon into a make-believe triumph, arriving at Beirut port under French and U.S. military escort where he received an impressive send off from Lebanese national (leftist) forces as he sailed off to his new home in Tunis.

What we now see transpiring in Gaza is a similar pattern where Hamas is allowed to declare victory, save face and move forward. This was in all probability not one of Israel's intended goals when it began pounding Gaza on Dec. 27. Given the intensity of the bombardments it was clear that Israel's aim in the war in Gaza was to finish off the Islamic Resistance Movement.

After three weeks of relentless bombing of Gaza, Hamas, which has lost an undisclosed number of fighters as well as numerous high-ranking officials, finds it can still declare victory. In some parts of the Middle East, victory, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Ultimately, this may not be a bad thing as it will facilitate peace talks somewhere down the road. Had Israel succeeded in finishing off Hamas, history – and recent history – tells us that the backlash would have most likely given birth to a more radical group. The defeat of 1967 gave birth to the PLO and the creation of the Palestinian 'fedai,' or guerrilla. The defeat of 1982 gave rise to Hezbollah, and the pressure on the PLO in the wake of the intifada, or uprising, gave birth to Hamas. There is no knowing what might transpire in the aftermath of a Hamas defeat.

For the Israelis, living with a pacified Hamas, might ultimately be the lesser of two evils.


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