By Gideon Levy
On the morrow of the return of the last Israeli soldier from Gaza, we can determine with certainty that they had all gone out there in vain. This war ended in utter failure for Israel.
This goes beyond the profound moral failure, which is a grave matter in itself, but pertains to its inability to reach its stated goals. In other words, the grief is not complemented by failure. We have gained nothing in this war save hundreds of graves, some of them very small, thousands of maimed people, much destruction and the besmirching of Israel's image.
What seemed like a predestined loss to only a handful of people at the onset of the war will gradually emerge as such to many others, once the victorious trumpeting subsides.
The initial objective of the war was to put an end to the firing of Qassam rockets. This did not cease until the war's last day. It was only achieved after a cease-fire had already been arranged. Defense officials estimate that Hamas still has 1,000 rockets.
The war's second objective, the prevention of smuggling, was not met either. The head of the Shin Bet security service has estimated that smuggling will be renewed within two months.
Most of the smuggling that is going on is meant to provide food for a population under siege, and not to obtain weapons. But even if we accept the scare campaign concerning the smuggling with its exaggerations, this war has served to prove that only poor quality, rudimentary weapons passed through the smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip to Egypt.
Israel's ability to achieve its third objective is also dubious. Deterrence, my foot. The deterrence we supposedly achieved in the Second Lebanon War has not had the slightest effect on Hamas, and the one supposedly achieved now isn't working any better: The sporadic firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip has continued over the past few days.
The fourth objective, which remained undeclared, was not met either. The IDF has not restored its capability. It couldn't have, not in a quasi-war against a miserable and poorly-equipped organization relying on makeshift weapons, whose combatants barely put up a fight.
The heroic descriptions and victory poems written abut the "military triumph" will not serve to change reality. The pilots were flying on training missions and the ground forces were engaged in exercises that involved joining up and firing weapons.
The describing of the operation as a "military achievement" by the various generals and analysts who offered their take on the operation is plain ridiculous.
We have not weakened Hamas. The vast majority of its combatants were not harmed and popular support for the organization has in fact increased. Their war has intensified the ethos of resistance and determined endurance. A country which has nursed an entire generation on the ethos of a few versus should know to appreciate that by now. There was no doubt as to who was David and who was Goliath in this war.
The population in Gaza, which has sustained such a severe blow, will not become more moderate now. On the contrary, the national sentiment will now turn more than before against the party which inflicted that blow - the State of Israel. Just as public opinion leans to the right in Israel after each attack against us, so it will in Gaza following the mega-attack that we carried out against them.
If anyone was weakened because of this war, it was Fatah, whose fleeing from Gaza and its abandonment have now been given special significance. The succession of failures in this war needs to include, of course, the failure of the siege policy. For a while, we have already come to realize that is ineffective. The world boycotted, Israel besieged and Hamas ruled (and is still ruling).
But this war's balance, as far as Israel is concerned, does not end with the absence of any achievement. It has placed a heavy toll on us, which will continue to burden us for some time. When it comes to assessing Israel's international situation, we must not allow ourselves to be fooled by the support parade by Europe's leaders, who came in for a photo-op with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Israel's actions have dealt a serious blow to public support for the state. While this does not always translate itself into an immediate diplomatic situation, the shockwaves will arrive one day. The whole world saw the images. They shocked every human being who saw them, even if they left most Israelis cold.
The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law. The investigations are on their way.
Graver still is the damage this will visit upon our moral spine. It will come from difficult questions about what the IDF did in Gaza, which will occur despite the blurring effect of recruited media.
So what was achieved, after all? As a war waged to satisfy considerations of internal politics, the operation has succeeded beyond all expectations. Likud Chair Benjamin Netanyahu is getting stronger in the polls. And why? Because we could not get enough of the war.