During and after Operation Cast Lead, senior Israeli spokespersons highlighted its most apparent achievement: restoring Israel’s power of deterrence. In addition, many of those spokespersons linked between asserting Israel’s power of deterrence and advancing the peace process.
According to Israeli senior officials “Hamas does not represent any kind of legitimate right or aspiration of the Palestinian people,” as stated by the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Livni, in a press conference in Sderot on 31 December 2008. Therefore, the peace process will advance if and only if radical Palestinians are disheartened.
At the same press conference, Livni stated that aim of Operation Cast Lead was to change the equation with Hamas.
“We are not prepared to live any longer in a region and in a situation in which they believe that they can do whatever they like—hoping that Israel shows restraint because we are more responsible. We showed that this equation has changed.” she said.
However, Stuart A. Cohen, a military analyst with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, a research center at Bar Ilan University, claims in a paper published by the center in February 2009, that that Israel’s primary objective at Operation Cast Lead failed.
According to Cohen, “as strategic thinkers repeatedly pointed out during the Cold War, the side intent on attaining deterrence is never in a position to determine whether or not that aim has been achieved.” Furthermore, he claims that “Ultimately, the decision rests with the putative deteree: Only if he acts in accordance with my wishes does he signify that my deterrence has been ‘successful’.”
The realities on Israel’s southern border proved Israel’s expectations wrong, as stated by an editorial published in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz on 3 March. The newspaper claims that “Hamas proved to Israel that the war waged against it was totally useless.”
The continuous shelling from Gaza since Israel unilaterally declared a cessation of its military campaign make it obvious that its military was incapable of “changing the equation” despite its capacity to reduce the Gaza Strip to rubble. According to Haaretz “the Qassams and the Grad missiles that continue to fall and to sow fear prove that no deterrence was achieved in this useless war.”
Moreover, Israeli analysts believe that the government’s objective of preventing Hamas from becoming a legitimate political force was missed: “The major damage Cast Lead did was in legitimizing Hamas as the ruler of the Gaza Strip, with increasing calls for ‘reconciliation talks’ that will return the organization to the Palestinian leadership” (Aluf Benn, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz February 27, 2009).
The public evaluation of the outcome of Operation Cast Lead in Israel is divided and confused. According to a survey made in February by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at the Tel Aviv University “Israeli public assessment of its results appears to be divided almost evenly between the disappointed (33%) and the satisfied (36%), with the rest (29%) either in the middle or not knowing.”
According to the survey, the disappointed believe Israel should have continued the operation until Hamas surrendered rather than give in to the international pressure to stop the fighting.
This belief is shared also by many of the reserve soldiers who took part in the operation.
"It’s as if we did nothing," says G., an officer in the special forces, to Yael Levy from Ynet. The troops under his command operated in the northern Gaza districts of al-Attatra and Beit Lahiya. "We were inside (Gaza) for 10 days and preparing for that took three weeks of being away from family and friends. From life, really. When we left we were sure that the government had struck some sort of an agreement. It is very disappointing to see what’s going on now," he added. "Renewed fighting seems inevitable.”
"We should have gone in deeper, into southern Gaza," he continued. "Anyone in their right mind can see where this is going. I’m waiting for the next draft order."
The Tami Steinmetz Center survey also checked the positions on negotiations with Hamas. While a majority now say there is no place for such negotiations, 45% of the entire Israeli public and 40% of the Jewish public believe today that Israel should hold negotiations with Hamas.
Many analysts believe that in the long run, Israel’s offensive on Gaza will have a deterring impact, despite that as of the beginning of March, Hamas and the Palestinian resistance appear to have been strengthened by the offensive. However, the confusion in Israeli public opinion indicates that Hamas, as the representative party for the Palestinian resistance, is becoming a legitimate interlocutor and Israel will have no alternative but to negotiate a long-term agreement with the Islamic organization in the near future.
For Israel, the alternative to negotiating with Hamas will be either a third failed offensive or a genocide. Neither of which is an option for the Israeli military.