Washington Watch: Unanswered questions

This war leaves many unanswered questions, starting with, “Why is the war different from all other wars?” It isn’t.

An IDF soldier traverses a tunnel used by Hamas gunmen for cross-border attacks (photo credit: REUTERS)
An IDF soldier traverses a tunnel used by Hamas gunmen for cross-border attacks
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This war – actually the latest round in a long-running conflict – appears to be winding down. It leaves many unanswered questions, starting with, “Why is the war different from all other wars?” It isn’t.
Here are several other questions to ponder, some will take more time than others to answer.
As Israel withdraws its ground forces without any formal cease-fire understandings with Hamas, will the threat of massive retaliation be sufficient to keep Gaza calm without any agreement filled with empty promises by each side?
The casualty toll in Gaza is nearing 2,000 dead and another 8,200 wounded, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, but how accurate is that since it comes from a branch of the Hamas government? Will it ever be possible to get accurate data about the number of women and children as compared to men of fighting age? Why have the international media been so unquestioning in quoting the Hamas ministry?
Of the thousands of rockets and missiles launched at Israel, how many of them fell in Gaza and what was the casualty toll? Will we ever know?
When UNRWA reported it found Hamas rockets and other munitions in its facilities and turned them over to “local authorities,” did they really think no one understood that the local authority in Gaza is Hamas?
Why have international media failed to report intimidation of their reporters and photographers by Hamas? Is it because of threats of confiscating equipment, expulsion, or worse unless they toe the Hamas line? Is the fact that reports of this pressure have gotten little coverage because the news outfits are more concerned about access than accuracy (remember CNN in Saddam’s Iraq)?
Is a new regional order taking shape as a result of this war, with moderate Sunni Muslim states like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE lining up on one side together with Israel, and Islamists like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood along with Qatar, Turkey and Iran on the other?
In view of their increasingly close relationship and support for Hamas, should the United States be reexamining its security and intelligence cooperation with Qatar and Turkey? Is it safe to have so many American personnel and defense facilities based in those countries?
Did the IDF underestimate Hamas’s fighting skills, discipline and determination? Was the IDF too lax in following its own rules for avoiding civilian casualties?
Did Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu outsmart Hamas by refusing to negotiate a cease-fire and withdrawing unilaterally, denying the Islamist group any claims to concessions by Israel? Or will they be able to claim they forced Israel to leave and thus claim victory? Do negotiations really matter since both sides have been better at finding reasons to break their commitments than to keep them?
Who really won the war? Was it Hamas because Israel failed to achieve its announced goal of putting it out of business, and its leadership is still alive? Was Israel the winner because Iron Dome prevented any major missile strikes, Hamas took such a devastating beating, and the Jewish state strengthened ties with Egypt while making openings to the Gulf states? Who really lost the war?
Was Hamas the loser because none of its missiles hit Israeli population centers, it failed to grab any hostages, its only Arab ally is Qatar, many Arab states effectively sided with Israel, Hamas’ financial condition has gone from bad to worse, and there is growing support for handing over control of Gaza to its arch-rival Fatah and the Palestinian Authority?
Was it Israel because it failed in its stated goals of disarming Hamas and demilitarizing Gaza, because the war sparked widespread anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations and because of international indignation over the killing of so many civilians?
Did Hamas leadership hide in shelters and store munitions in bunkers beneath Shifa Hospital and similar facilities while sending civilians out to be human shields?
Will failure to win any concessions from Israel damage Hamas’ capacity to govern and its ability to raise foreign capital to rebuild and to pay government salaries?
How much did Israel know about the tunnel network beneath its borders? Why was Netanyahu willing to accept two unconditional Egyptian cease-fires without going after them until Hamas refused to stop shooting? Was he so focused on his military and political buildup against the Iranian nuclear threat that he didn’t pay enough attention to the more immediate tunnel problem literally on Israel’s doorstep?
Was US Secretary of State John Kerry naïve and uninformed in his reading of Hamas by depending on Qatar and Turkey to negotiate a cease-fire when they apparently spoke only to the political leaders in exile but not the military commanders on the ground who were running the war?
If Kerry offended both Israel and the PA by conceding too much to Hamas and sidelining the PA in his negotiations, rewarding Hamas with concessions that will strengthen the Islamists’ hand viz. the PA, what will be the impact on the US role as Middle East peacemaker?
Will the outcome of this war, with Hamas seriously weakened politically, militarily and financially, make it easier or tougher for Kerry to persuade Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the peace table any time soon?
Does French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius have the right idea when he says the Israelis and Palestinians have proven themselves “incapable” of concluding an agreement so a two-state solution “should be imposed by the international community”?
Will the high civilian death toll and destruction in Gaza, seen daily on televisions and in social media, affect European trade, tourism and investment with Israel? What can and should Israel be doing to deal with the rising anti-Semitism in Europe?
How long can Israel shrug off international concerns and criticism, especially regarding civilian casualties? And treat its American ally as a subordinate whose only job is to mind its own business, keep forking over $3-billlion-plus in foreign aid every year and, as Netanyahu told them, never “second guessing” the prime minister?
Is anyone willing to devote the intellect, energy, creativity and resources that they put into making war into making peace? Finally, a multiple-choice question: When does the next round of fighting begin? A) in a few days B) a few months C) a few years D) No one knows.