Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gaza Day 19 Update: Possible Cease Fire, Gaza Damage Assessment at $1.4 billion

In either absolute or proportional terms, and in either human or economic tolls, Gaza has lost more than Israel in this war.

While hostilities continue, Hamas has communicated to Egypt the first counterproposal of details for a temporary ceasefire, and the first assessments of the damage to Gaza put the costs at $1.4 billion.
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Associated Press) – Israel's fierce assault on Gaza's Hamas rulers has destroyed at least $1.4 billion worth of buildings, roads, pipes, power lines and other infrastructure in already impoverished territory, Palestinian surveyors estimate.

CAIRO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Palestinian movement Hamas has presented Egyptian mediators a "detailed vision" on how to carry out a truce initiative proposed by Cairo, which will now relay this vision to Israel, Hamas officials said on Wednesday.
Economic Toll

To put this war in strategic perspective, the GDP of the Gaza Strip is estimated about $5.0 billion (2006 Estimate), as per the CIA World Factbook. Thus, this war, in 19 days, has cost Hamas 28% of its GDP. Even with international aid, it will take years or decades for Gaza to recover from the devastation.

The war has cost Israel, in comparison, approximately $1 billion, out of a GDP of $185.8 billion (2007 Estimate). Or about 0.54% of GDP.

The absolute ratio of costs were Gaza’s $1.4 billion versus Israel’s $1 billion. While this is only a 7:5 ratio absolutely, it was a 50:1 ratio of costs-versus-GDP, since Gaza had far less to lose than Israel in the first place.

Human Toll

Gaza has lost 1,017 dead to Israel’s 13 killed; a 77:1 absolute ratio. Yet relatively, Gaza lost 0.068% of its population dead (1,017 out of about 1.5 million), or 67 per 100,000, versus Israel’s 0.00018% (13 out of 7.1 million),or 0.18 per 100,000. That is a relative mortality ratio of 370:1.

Taking into account the number of wounded on either side, Gaza also suffers disproportionately. Israel has been somewhat circumspect about the number of their wounded. Iranian news site PressTV claims that nearly 100 Israeli soldiers have been wounded, which equates to 0.0014% of the overall Israeli population, or 1.4 per 100,000. In comparison, latest reports have said 4,600 Palestinians were wounded, which is 0.31% or 307 per 100,000. Making the absolute ratio of wounded at least 46:1, and the proportional ratio of wounded amongst the respective populations of 218:1.


For now, Israel seems to have “won.” Yet the leadership of Hamas may not care.

It will be difficult, on an objective basis, for Hamas to claim any form of “victory” for this phase of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, other than in terms of garnering international sympathies and in popular support via propagandistic exaggeration.

Given that Hamas are at last giving terms to Egypt for discussion of a cease-fire, and are considering talks with Fatah, they may have lost more than they were willing to afford in the war. Thus, they may be at last ready to capitulate. The tragedy now will be the number of dead and wounded suffered between when the leadership knew that the war is over, and when the armistice goes into effect. The fighting will continue until an official pronouncement is made, and potentially even afterwards, as the acts of individual non-state actors and pockets of unsatisfied militants.

A key consideration in a strategic perspective is when people who have so little to begin with don’t care any more about restraint. They do not mind losing whatever they have simply to confront and spite a hated opponent. The “brave loser” of such wars often accepts disproportionate casualties as a badge of courage. They may have picked the fight with Israel to electrify radical Muslim elements internationally.

Such absolute and relative defeats become glorified and romanticized in the eyes of zealots. In other words, it does not need to make sense, nor does conflict need to end simply because matters have turned out terribly for the typical inhabitant of the Gaza Strip.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and many other conflict zones of the world have shown that wars can continue even long past any “normally acceptable” definition of defeat where more reasonable people would surrender and seek to reconstruct a civil society. Such scorched earth wars are conducted specifically by “unreasonable” people. These are not of the more socially constructive ilk of positive innovators who seem to think they know the future. Even as their side is being demolished, these sorts see the future, and it is triumphantly apocalyptic.

Even the apparent “victor” needs to be very careful in how they win the war. Tactics used by the Israeli military may not achieve in the long run what all the investment and spilling of blood and money was supposed to produce. Though the war-fighting capacity of the Gaza Strip has been reduced for now, it can be replaced relatively easily in due time. The loss to Israel’s credibility, relationships and standing in the world may take longer to repair.

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