Johann Cruyff was born in Amsterdam in 1947 and is still considered the best football player Holland ever produced. His name can be mentioned in the same breath with Beckenbauer, Pelé and Maradona. The Dutch honor him even today not only for his swift legs, but also for his original turns of phrase. When he was the coach of Ajax Amsterdam, he reportedly told his players before a match against a weaker team: "They cannot win against us, but we can lose against them."
Israel finds itself in exactly this type of situation when it comes to Hamas. The Palestinians militants are never going to defeat the Israeli military. But the end of "Operation Cast Lead" has confirmed that Israel can lose to Hamas. By waging a war that has killed 1,300 Palestinians and wounded several thousand, Israel has not only succeeded in turning global public opinion against itself; it has also invited sanctions that will be much heavier than a few negative editorials in the New York Times or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
In response, the military has begun preparing dossiers for each piece of property it destroyed in the war. It intends to use these documents to prove that the properties were legitimate targets. Among these properties were not only Hamas headquarters and arms caches, but also residential properties from which rockets were launched on Israel.
It's hard to say whether these documents will ever be used to help exonerate Israel. But the mere fact that Israel figures that there is such a possibility shows how quickly a military victory can morph into a moral defeat. And the issue of whether Israel's action was justified self-defense depends not only on the quality of the motives, but also on the quantity of the results.
Let's forget for the moment the anti-Semitic demonstrations that pretended to be nothing more than anti-Zionist protests. Let's forget the calls for "Death, Death to Israel." And let's forget about the absurd comparisons between the situations faced by the Palestinians in Gaza today and the one faced by the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Approximately 1,300 dead is no trifle and no collateral damage from an act of war even when many of the dead were militants who just happened to forget to put their uniforms on and who hid behind civilians. Approximately 1,300 dead is a tenth of a percent of the population of Gaza. If it were Germany, that figure would be 80,000.
1,300 Dead -- A Nightmare, a Catastrophe
Let's forget about Hamas' charter, which would like to see not only the territories occupied since 1967, but also all of Palestine liberated from Zionist occupation. Let's forget the stupid chatter of experts like Michael Lüders and Peter Scholl-Latour, who are calling on Israel to meet with Hamas at the negotiation table.
Thirteen hundred dead: That screams to the heavens. That is not an issue of "proportionality," which is impossible in any asymmetrical war. A pile of corpses like that is a nightmare, a catastrophe.
And let's forget for a moment Hamas' heroic propaganda machine, which even recruits children who would love nothing more than to die a martyr's death. Thirteen hundred dead in three weeks: That is a down payment on the Apocalypse -- no matter who started it, who bears responsibility and who ultimately settles the score.
Over the last 60 years, Israel has had plenty of opportunities to experience its enemies' sense of reality. It reminds you of the Black Knight from Monty Python's "Holy Grail." After King Arthur cuts off both the knight's arms and legs, he says: "All right, we'll call it a draw." Or maybe it reminds you of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Saddam Hussein's information minister, who threatened Americans with annihilation while American tanks were rolling through Baghdad behind him. In 2005, al-Sahhaf claimed: "The information was correct, but the interpretation was not."
No 'Defeat' in Spoken Arabic
So, it was no surprise that right after the announcement of a cease-fire, Ismail Haniya, the "prime minister" of Gaza, announced Hamas' victory over Israel and attached conditions to extending the cease-fire beyond one week. From his point of view, he's completely correct: He survived "Operation Cast Lead."
Although you'll find the word for "defeat" ("Naksa") in an Arabic dictionary, you'll never see it used. There are only victors, like Haniya, and total victors, like Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president of Syria. In 1982, al-Assad put down an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama by bombing it and killing 20,000-30,000 people. Since then, nothing more has been heard about the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
After the end of the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah explained to his victors in a videotaped message that he had to hide for three weeks in order to emerge thereafter as the victor. And, now, Haniya -- the "prime minister" of Gaza who has had been fanned by tragedy and the smell of decaying bodies -- is doing the same.
And he has many reasons to be thankful toward Israel because Hamas really did eke out a spot for itself at the negotiating table. On Monday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Europeans were ready to recognize a unity government made up of the PLO and Hamas without requiring the latter to amend its charter. Haniya and Hamas couldn't have a bigger success than that because it would mean that in the end, it was worth it to remove the PLO from power in Gaza, to liquidate a large number of Fatah members, to launch rockets on Israel, to terrorize its own population and to use civilians as human shields.
The Israelis took care of the rest. Now they have learned one more thing: Hamas cannot win against Israel, but Israel really can lose against Hamas.