An Israeli soldier stands atop a tank - Reuters - November 17, 2012.
An Israeli soldier stands atop a tank near the border with the Gaza Strip, November 17, 2012.Photo by Reuters

 



It would be a bit premature to assess whether the yet-to-be-signed agreement with Hamas is good or bad for Israel or whether it will guarantee a lengthy period of calm for the residents of the south. The cease-fire is still fragile and the next few days will be crucial. However, it is possible to point out at this stage some winners and losers.

Winners

The immediate winners from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision on Wednesday to accept the cease-fire terms and call off a possible ground incursion into Gaza are both the civilians and combatants in Israel and Gaza whose lives have been saved by the conclusion of Operation Pillar of Defense. I open this list with them because it is important to remember that while we are speaking of winners and losers, this is not a football game.

Mohammed Morsi: Not long ago, U.S. President Barack Obama shamed Egypt's new leadership when he publicly said that the country was neither America's enemy nor its ally. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was seen as an oddball fanatic to be tolerated as long as he did not step out of line.

This week, Obama called Morsi three times a day, urging him to broker a cease-fire and now the administration can't praise him enough. And it's not just the United States; even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly thanked Morsi at the press conference in which the cease-fire was announced on Wednesday night.

This was the week in which Morsi cemented his position, not just as the leader of the largest Arab nation, but also as a regional statesman. He hasn't undergone a Zionist conversion and he still denounces "Israeli aggression," but he knew he was acting in Egypt's best interests when he made do with a limited diplomatic protest to Israel's operation in Gaza and offered his services as a mediator. How Morsi uses his new role is up to him now. He also now has to deal with the unpleasant duty of being guarantor of the peace in Gaza.

Hamas' political leadership: Even if the cease-fire agreement garnered them only part of their original demands, Hamas' civilian leaders will be seen as having squeezed concessions out of Israel for the benefit of ordinary Gazans. The agreement is further de-facto recognition by Israel and the international community of Hamas' government in Gaza. With Ahmed Jabari dead, Hamas' civilian leaders also have one less rival in the behind-the-scenes power struggle going on within Hamas and these leaders' deepening alliance with the new regime in Cairo strengthens their position.

The Defense Ministry's Research and Development: The research and development directorate of the Defense Ministry had to battle the Israel Defense Forces General Staff to find funding for the Iron Dome system and was the target of a vicious smear campaign financed by defense companies that were passed over for the missile-defense contract. However, the Defense Ministry's approval of the Iron Dome system has been vindicated by the 400 successful rocket and missile interceptions that have occurred in the past eight days. It wasn't only their selection of the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems system, but the entire concept of defense as a component of Israel's tactical and strategic deterrence that was validated. It is a classic "Revenge of the Nerds" scenario that has major ramifications besides saving lives and preventing damage to property. This will strengthen the Israel Defense Forces' technological branches' efforts to secure a larger share of the defense budget at the expense of more tanks and combat jets, changing the way Israel will fight its future wars.

Ehud Barak: From his point of view, Operation Pillar of Defense could not have turned out any better. It was a swift military success for Israel that for once didn't get bogged down or lead to a diplomatic setback. Swift and sophisticated is how Defense Minister Ehud Barak likes to do things and it will most likely attract voters seeking an experienced centrist in the upcoming elections. Barak is much closer now to ensuring that he stays around both in the next Knesset and as defense minister.

Losers

Benjamin Netanyahu: While Israeli pundits not usually among the prime minister's fans complimented him on the measured way he conducted this operation and for ending it when he did, these are not his voters. Some commentators, mainly in the international press, have accused Netanyahu of launching the operation to help him in the upcoming elections, but chances are that he will lose votes from some of his more right-wing supporters who are exasperated with him for not going all the way in Gaza. Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett, who throughout the operation called for a ground offensive, stands to gain these voters' support.

Hamas' military leadership: For over a decade the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades have relied on their primitive and inaccurate missiles to enforce a balance of terror against Israel, especially since the Shin Bet security service succeeded in breaking the back of the West Bank cells that produced suicide bombings. Now - with their arsenal depleted and Israeli towns relatively safe behind the Iron Dome - they have to come up with a new tactic and find a different Israeli weak spot. On Wednesday night they were firing in the air and rejoicing in the streets of Gaza, but in the cold light of day, Hamas' military leaders know that they have not only lost their head, they have lost much of their leverage over Israel and their rivals in Hamas' political wing.

Mahmoud Abbas: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both briefly visited the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Ramallah, but it was clear they were there only out of a sense of duty. Abbas still plans to seek recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations next week but his thunder has been stolen by the other Palestinian leadership in Gaza. Hamas are the ones sitting in Morsi's office and it is with them that Israel is holding meaningful – albeit indirect – negotiations. Abbas is as irrelevant as ever. Little wonder that the protests in the West Bank this week were directed as much against him as much as against Israeli occupation.

Barack Obama: The Gaza operation overshadowed Obama's first foreign trip since winning re-election, including his historic visit to Burma. The fact that he had to urgently send Hillary Clinton off to the region and not to a football game was a reminder of how the Middle East has a tendency to suck in presidents. Obama is hoping to "pivot to Asia," but he has found that the United States is still needed elsewhere.