Hamas’ claims of victory in the Gaza war are well-founded. A government which survives the war is deemed victorious. In rare circumstances, military results are so humiliating that a surviving government cannot claim victory, but nevertheless it did not lose. In 1967 Syria and Egypt suffered great military humiliation, but they did not lose the war: their governments survived, and both territories and armies were left largely intact.

Hamas remained in power after the Gaza war, but perhaps Israel can claim victory based on humiliation? That would be a plausible stance had we stopped the operation on its second day. After four hundred air sorties devastated all the Hamas infrastructure above the ground and much below it, Israeli deterrence was reinstated. The blow was unquestionably devastating, and the operation humiliatingly successful. The problem is, the Israeli government did not have the good sense to end the operation immediately.
The weeks of indecisive, aimless fighting established a new Israeli objective: to dislodge Hamas, or at least to end the weapons smuggling. None of these objectives was reached, and the operation was rendered a failure. Hamas survived Israel’s war against it and resumed its activities—thus, it rightly claimed victory.

There is a subtle difference between winning and not losing. In the war, Hamas’ objective was to survive rather than to destroy Israel. In that narrow sense, the terrorist group has won. Hamas also scored a victory against Israel in broader terms: far from humiliation, Palestinians exhibited samud, endurance in the face of suffering.

An important reason for the Israeli evacuation of Gush Katif was to stop the incessant Palestinian attacks; Jews fled the North over the rocket attacks from Lebanon; Sderot, struck with crude projectiles from Gaza, lost a significant portion of its population. On the contrary, Gazans continued their support for Hamas despite the destruction wrought on them by Israel. We can argue for ages that fleeing Jews acted reasonably while the immovable Arabs did not, but that discussion is irrelevant. Whether it is rational or not, the Gazans show great moral resistance to invading forces. In that regard too, they achieved moral victory.

Could Israel have denied Hamas (and Gazans generally) their success? One option was already discussed, a short and humiliating aerial assault. Another option was craved by many IDF soldiers in Gaza: to press on and destroy Hamas in its holes. On the ground, many soldiers wanted none of the government’s political games and screamed to push deep into Gaza. The government pulled them out and handed the victory to Hamas.

did Hamas win IDF Gaza operation?