Israel and Hamas: What does each side really want?

Israel and Hamas: What does each side really want?

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Israeli soldiers stand on a Merkava tank stationed at an army deployment along the Israeli Gaza border, on July 22, 2014. A senior Palestinian official said talks were ongoing with Hamas for a truce to end its war in Gaza with Israel, adding both sides have refused a humanitarian ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)


by Ben Brumfield and Mariano Castillo


Posted on July 23, 2014 at 9:21 AM

What is Israel's endgame in Gaza?

(CNN) -- A river of blood runs through Gaza, as homes are smashed to rubble and hospital emergency rooms overflow. The volley of Hamas rockets into Israel continues, even when met with the preeminent firepower of the Israeli military's bombs, missiles and shells.

The legions of dead are swelling by the hundreds. It's horrifying. But the world has seen it all before -- twice. Operation Protective Edge looks much like its forerunners in 2008 and 2012.

Hamas won't back down. And Israel refuses to stop until it feels the job is done.

Millions around the world watch and ask: What could Israel hope to achieve?

CNN put that question and others to two seasoned Israeli columnists: one a former military correspondent, the other a human rights journalist focusing on Palestinians.

Though they disagreed on many points, they surprisingly concurred on some others. This is how they answered:

1. What is Israel's endgame in this operation?

There is none. Both expert agree on that.

But though Israel may not be working toward one dramatic outcome, there are concrete objectives, says military writer Ron Ben-Yishai.

There are short-term and long-term goals that are worth it for Israel, he argues.

Many of them will work, concedes critical columnist Gideon Levy. But he disagrees about their wisdom.

They won't cure the disease but instead feed it, he argues. It will turn the violence into a recurring nightmare.

2. What is the immediate military objective?

The conservative government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to stop the Hamas rocket fire. The mission will also weaken Hamas, Ben-Yishai says.

"Erode the political clout and the ability of Hamas to act both as a political and military-terrorist movement," those are the objectives, he says.

In the meantime that mission has expanded to destroying underground tunnels, which Hamas militants use to get into Israel and attack.

Ben-Yishai is confident the goals can be achieved.

"For the short-run, no doubt," Levy concurs. But he thinks Hamas will come back stronger after Protective Edge, both militarily and politically.

He cites Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In Cast Lead, 1,300 Palestinians and more than a dozen Israelis died. Afterward, Hamas made a full recovery, he said.

3. What sparked this round of conflict?

Levy sees the rocket fire from Gaza as the boiling over of cumulative tensions.

He points to the peace process initiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry between Israel and Palestinians. The one that broke down weeks ago.

The whole time, someone was missing from the negotiating table, he said. "Gaza was ignored totally."

Youth killings, of three Israeli teens and then one Palestinian teen, ignited passions on both sides.

Add to that the desperation in Gaza. The narrow strip of land is locked in on all sides, and people there live in dire poverty and deprivation. "Gaza is today the biggest cage in the world," Levy says.

The rocket fire is just a part of it all, he says. It's a way of Hamas pounding the table.

Ben-Yishai sees it the other way around. Israel has tried peace and calm with the troublesome Hamas militants, and it hasn't worked out.

"This formula is out of the game. It's not in the cards now," he says. The military option has become inevitable.

4. What makes Protective Edge different?

Ben-Yishai agrees with Levy's assessment that Hamas militants have come back stronger since the last military operation -- in at least one sense.

They have more long-range rockets. Previously, militants had to import them all from the outside. Now they can also construct them themselves, he says.

They've also buried a network of launch sites below the ground's surface. Hitting them "is quite a job," Ben-Yishai says.

The Israeli military will have to strike deep into those systems.

Levy says the improvement in weaponry is part of the vicious cycle he's seen before. The Israeli military destroys the militants' capabilities; they come back stronger.

"By the next operation, they will be even better equipped," he says. So will the Israelis.

Hamas has also inflicted more casualties on Israel this time around -- 29 soldiers have died in the Gaza ground incursion, whereas just over a dozen died in Cast Lead.

If too many Israelis die, it could have an effect on Israeli public opinion and perhaps turn things around, Levy says. But so far, the public is showing much support for the operation in Gaza.

5. What will be the lasting effects of the operation?

The government hopes that Protective Edge will give Israel a few years of relative peace, restore normalcy for a time, Ben-Yishai says.

"After every round of hostility ... there is a sort of lull that Israel enjoys very much," he says. People can think about other things and tackle other issues, like the economy.

But it's not nearly worth the cost, Levy says. Droves of Palestinians will be killed, others' lives ruined. Even from a purely selfish standpoint, it's at best an empty victory.

"We will see horrible scenes," he says. "The world will condemn Israel. And what comes out of it? One year of peace."

Ben-Yishai believes there is a permanent gain to be made, that repeated operations in Gaza will wear the enemy down until they stop firing rockets altogether.

The result will be the opposite, Levy says.

He predicts that this military intervention will set the stage for the next bloodcurdling intervention -- and then the next.

Click here for more from CNN.

What is Hamas' endgame in Gaza?

(CNN) -- For three weeks now, Hamas and Israel have been locked in a deadly battle. Each side points to the other for provoking the conflict, which has left scores -- mainly civilians -- dead.

And yet, a cease-fire seems unlikely, in part because the sides don't feel they have accomplished their goals.

What are the goals for Hamas, the organization that governs Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by many Western powers? And what is it willing to settle for to end the bloodshed?

What Hamas wants:

1. The destruction of Israel.

This mission is written into the preamble of Hamas' founding document: "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it."

It's a demand that is globally repudiated as outrageous. It is unrealistic for Hamas to think that it can somehow destroy Israel. As long as Hamas leaders latch on to that as an endgame, the result will be continued flare-ups for years to come.

Some Hamas leaders have stated a willingness to accept peace with Israel under certain conditions, the Council on Foreign Relations notes in a report. For instance, they want Palestinian refugees to be able to return. But such voices are not being heard in the current conflict.

If Hamas is incapable of destroying Israel, it might still be dedicated to scaring Israelis off the contested land, journalist Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic posits.

"The goal of Hamas—the actual, overarching goal—is to terrorize the Jews of Israel, through mass murder, into abandoning their country," Goldberg wrote. "If generations of Palestinians have to be sacrificed to that goal, well, Hamas believes such sacrifices are theologically justified."

CNN Middle East analyst Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, suggests a different type of war -- a media campaign by Hamas.

"Hamas knows it can't destroy Israel with its rockets or tunnels, but it can create a legal and international situation where Israel can no longer legitimately defend itself," he said.

Reports of civilian casualties in Gaza -- without the context of rockets being fired at Israel -- play into Hamas' media strategy, he said.

2. An end to the Israeli blockade.

Although Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005 and dismantled Israeli settlements, Palestinians say they continue to live under occupation to this day.

Palestinians argue that Israel still maintains effective control of Gaza, making it an occupied territory. Israel controls Gaza's borders, waters and airspace -- and oversees what goods make it into the territory.

CNN's Ben Wedeman recently spoke with Ismail Haniyeh, who is essentially the prime minister of Gaza. The Hamas member gave his demands -- namely, an immediate end to what he called the Israeli aggression. He wants border crossings to Israel and Egypt opened.

In a 2012 interview with CNN, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had a similar message.

"The resistance is a means to an end," Meshaal told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "The endgame is to end occupation but the international community is not enabling us to do this. They are biased towards Israel."

Hamas wants a cease-fire, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdam said of the current conflict, but it wants assurances that the Palestinians will be able to live peacefully.

"No one is talking against having a cease-fire. But we want a fair cease-fire to protect our own people for a long time, to protect them from the Israeli military attacks, from the siege, from the arrests," Hamdam told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

3. The release of prisoners.

In 2011, a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was released by Hamas in exchange for more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. Many have since been re-arrested.

Dozens of other Palestinians were arrested in the aftermath of the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, an incident which precipitated the current fighting.

There is a precedent of Palestinian prisoners being released in negotiations with Hamas. This demand by Hamas is also among the most straightforward it has presented.

"Israel is not respecting its commitment by releasing and then arresting prisoners released," said Zaki Chehab, a leading Arab journalist and political editor of Hayat. "It's a sign that Israel has not respected its commitment."

The conditions that Hamas is making is not something unjustified, he told CNN. "They have a right to make a request because they've been under siege."

4. Rally support at home.

Some analysts argue that Hamas is engaged in a battle with Israel to shore up support among Palestinians.

Many Palestinians believe that Israel has no intention of finding long-term peace, and they are likely to support Hamas in greater numbers if they view the militants as standing up for their rights.

"Hamas gains strength from the feeling of many Palestinians of despair that they see settlement growth. They don't believe that Israel has any intention of giving them a state of their own. And so when Hamas says what good is there for us to accept Israel's right to exist since Israel will never give us a state anyway, that makes Hamas stronger," CNN political commentator Peter Beinart said.

During the last prolonged outbreak between the two sides in 2012, many concluded that Hamas gained credibility at the expense of other Palestinian leadership factions, according to a Council on Foreign Relations report.

In the period since 2012, Hamas has seen the number of governments friendly to it diminish, and its influence wane.

"Hamas finds itself in a very difficult situation, and has for a couple years now," writes Natan B. Sachs, a fellow at Brookings' Center for Middle East Policy. "Since 2012, when Egypt was governed by a president from the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas' parent organization), Hamas' fortunes have declined precipitously."

Strapped for cash and possibly losing popularity, Hamas operatives may have decided that they had little to lose in entering a conflict.

It's possible, Sachs said, that Hamas militants may not always be under the control of its political wing, and that this current conflict is the result of Hamas losing control of its cadres.

Click here for more from CNN.