Israel snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
In conflict, there comes a point where the only rational choice left, whether as a result of loss of men, materiel or territory is to surrender. The alternative is complete annihilation. This is predicated however on the victorious side accepting it. Arguably, both positions were adopted respectively as the Sri Lankan forces closed in on the Tamil Tigers' last remaining strongholds, with the result being the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of civilians trapped in the crossfire. Evidence of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military following their eventual victory and the Tigers' belated surrender is also abundant.
Relating this to Gaza, Israel has no intention of fully reoccupying the Strip despite calls for just that from the far-right, not least as it would give the militant groups ever greater opportunities of abducting soldiers than "Operation Protective Edge" currently has. It can't then force a victory that way. It can try and exhaust the very ability of Hamas and Islamic Jihad etc to resist by keeping the military operation going for so long that their stockpiled caches of rockets and ammunition are completely depleted, but they can't know how long that will take, nor is there a guarantee the political pressure from the international community won't, finally, become too much to ignore. Similarly, they don't know how many actual fighters Hamas etc have, nor can they trust their actions won't have pushed those with sympathy for the militant groups into joining/rejoining.
Just as there can only be peace through a negotiated settlement, so it appears there can now only be no peace through negotiations. This is what is meant by the idea of "demilitarising" Gaza, something we've heard a lot of the past few days. While it's not by any means clear just how "demilitarising" Gaza would be achieved, as the idea of UN monitors disarming Hamas while at the same time trying to provide for the hundreds of thousands reliant on UNRWA's various programmes, the implications are obvious. Hamas, despite all the obstacles in its path, including the blockade and deteriorating relations with former allies such as Syria and Iran, has succeeded in becoming just that little more like Hezbollah in Lebanon. During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas or other groups killed 6 Israeli soldiers. 56 have so far been killed in this latest conflict, including 5 inside Israel itself when Hamas used one of its "terror tunnels" to attack a military outpost.
This only underlines how the outside world and almost certainly Israel herself have underestimated Hamas. We were told Hamas was weak, how it resorted to war as a sign of its decline, and it's true the unity government deal suggested Hamas knew its position was ebbing. Only now do we discover that in fact Hamas has spent its time in Gaza preparing for just such a conflict, building the underground infrastructure any resistance group confined to a small area of land would need to store its weaponry. It's also the case the tunnels provided Gazans with necessities denied by the blockade, as well as the odd luxury (if fried chicken can ever be described as such). Nor is Hamas given any credit for its changes in strategy. It still has its repellent, antisemitic charter which calls for Israel's destruction, but it has long since moved away from the suicide attacks that did so much damage to the Palestinian cause. Had they wanted to they could have sent bombers through the tunnels; instead those who haven't been obliterated the second they stepped into Israel went for military targets.
Hamas then must be disarmed, not because its rockets threaten Israeli civilians in any meaningful sense, but as it now seems more formidable than before. Israel has spent the last few years safe in the knowledge that Fatah is as corrupt and broken as it has ever been, while Hamas has been isolated and contained in Gaza, a situation especially useful for proving the governing party's military mettle prior to elections. The reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, itself in response to Israel yet again not living up to promises made in an effort to kick start peace talks, led to Israel taking the opportunity presented by the kidnap/murder of three teenagers to pre-emptively strike against Hamas in the West Bank, which in turn brought us to where we are now.
We shouldn't pretend the political mood is shifting against Israel when it isn't. Philip Hammond is right to say it is undermining its own support, but it seems however much Israeli politicians insult and lecture both Obama and John Kerry neither is prepared to take on the lobby in the country. The real, significant change is at the lower level, where the voices of journalists are being heard before false balance is added later. When hardened hacks say the situation is as bad as they've experienced, and news anchors make clear their disquiet, it's ever harder for the frankly increasingly laughable IDF propaganda to affect the picture. The "most moral" army on the planet, which once did worry about so-called collateral damage, now tells desperate lies or not even that when it shells UN schools or kills children playing on the beach. Shortly, if not now, Israel will no longer be able carry on as it long as. That, even as the slaughter continues, is the very slightest of silver linings.