Now that the dust has settled over Operation Pillar of Cloud and the post-conflict phase has decisively shifted to the political arena, it seems appropriate to provide an analytical post-mortem of Hamas's strategy, successes, and failures from the conflict.
First, and perhaps most saliently is that the effort to mount a successful and sustained rocket campaign was far more difficult than expected. Much attention has rightfully been focused on Israel's vaunted 'Iron Dome' missile defense system. Of the 1,506 rockets that Hamas managed to loose during the conflict, some 421 were intercepted by the Israeli system, while a large proportion of the remaining rockets that struck Israel were deliberately ignored due to predictive computer models which distinguished between rockets that would hit settled areas and those that would not.
The result was that while Palestinian militants dramatically increased their rate of rocket fire from the levels seen during the Gaza War, their capacity to actually strike valuable targets remained the same. In the case of medium to long rage rockets the effective capability may have actually decreased, despite the introduction of the Fajr-5 which will be looked at next.
Second, the Fajr-5 was a dismal failure as a tactical weapon, and one with diminishing returns as a strategic one. While touted in the media as an Iranian imported rocket or missile this gives an inaccurate understanding of what this weapon actually is. The Fajr-5 is a glorified artillery rocket, it's little more than a long steel tube with a contact fuze and rocket booster in the back, and the payload up front. Soviet soldiers who used the Katyusha or 'Stalin Organ' during World War II would have little difficulty recognizing the weapon. However one major difference is that the Fajr-5 is big. Very big. The rocket is nearly 12 feet tall, and weighs almost 2,500lb's. The reason is that this rocket is meant to be fired from a large mobile chasse, Iran uses a full 6 x 6 forward control chasse with a Mercedes Benz engine. Needless to say this was not at the disposal of Palestinian militants.
The result was that while Israel probably interdicted many of the rockets in its strike in Khartoum, and its early airstrikes in Gaza, the reality was that it was incredibly difficult to effectively deploy the weapons. The massive rocket had to first be secretively deployed from its storage location, fueled, and then placed into a ready firing position all without attracting Israeli attention and interdiction fire. Because of this only seven Fajr-5 rockets were fired during the entire conflict, and of this number most struck open areas or were intercepted by 'Iron Dome'.
Initially the rockets had an impact by causing an uproar in Israel which demanded a harsher military response. However due to the inability of Hamas to utilize many rockets due to the factors mentioned before, this never materialized into an imperative for a ground invasion.
Third, the intervention of Egypt while essential in securing a ceasefire has not fundamentally altered the basic realities of Hamas's position. President Morsi may have been quick to push for a ceasefire agreement, and he certainly was more aggressive than his predecessor in pushing a pro-Gaza PR narrative. However tangibly little seems to have changed. The border between Gaza and the Sinai remains tightly controlled in the wake of a slew of Islamist terror attacks that have plagued Egypt since last year. Weapons and training are certainly not flowing from Cairo to Gaza, nor has Morsi been keen to dramatically upgrade political ties with the government in Gaza.
Egyptian pressure helped in deterring an Israeli ground offensive, but it has been a mistaken refrain over the past few weeks to chalk this up to primarily Egyptian influence. It was the confluence of American, European, Turkish, and Egyptian opinion combined with Israeli sensitivities and concerns over the regional tumult that led to Jerusalem avoiding a ground incursion. It emphatically does not rule out the potential of future campaigns, and Hamas can hardly count on Egyptian protection if Israel does choose to reengage in Gaza. President Morsi has made it clear in statement after statement, including a high profile affirmation in the midst of the conflict that Egypt had no intention of withdrawing from the peace accords or breaking relations with Israel.
So where does Hamas stand in the Morsi era? It remains a diplomatically isolated, militarily outmatched, and politically beleaguered entity trying to feel its way forward. The only thing that has changed is that now it can count on greater Egyptian diplomatic support in times of crisis. When set against its manifold problems, this chip seems to be of dubious benefit.
Despite the focus of this postmortem on Hamas and Israel, it seems as though the true winner of the conflict was Mahmoud Abbas. By bringing on a general engagement with Israel, Hamas reaped the temporary benefit of drawing attention to itself as a war-fighter and won broad accolades for its ability to 'win' a ceasefire. Israel meanwhile managed to inflict tremendous strategic damage and simultaneously impeded the efforts of Palestinian militants to strike back. However in a matter of days the pendulum has swung completely toward Abbas. Palestinians are uniformly celebrating this achievement, and few have the courage to levy criticism at Abbas in his moment of triumph. Khaled Meshaal even attempted to co-opt credit for the achievement, saying it would have been impossible without militant resistance from Hamas, a claim that rings hollow.
Hamas is once again in the familiar position of having suffered heavy losses without gaining any significant political chips. While Israel managed to conduct a successful military campaign, it too finds itself in a familiar position. Not knowing what to do next.
Josh Jacobs is an Analyst at 361Security