Israel claimed victory over Hamas and other Palestinian resistance organisations as it announced a unilateral ceasefire last Sunday after spending three weeks pounding Gaza.
Israeli leaders hoped they could destroy the resistance by demolishing Palestinian government buildings, schools, offices and homes. They launched wave after wave of attacks, which killed over 1,300 Palestinians.
But Israel failed in its objectives. Despite the devastation visited upon them, Hamas survived and was not driven from Gaza. Many Palestinians have rallied to its support.
A second central aim of the war was to stop the Palestinian rockets, but they were still flying as the ceasefire came into effect.
Huge protests around the world have also increased the pressure on Israel, and opposition to its oppression of the Palestinians has grown.
Israel’s military has not regained its aura of invincibility, which it lost after its defeat at the hands of the Lebanese Hizbollah group in 2006.
And the huge movement that has sprung up against the slaughter in Gaza has severely weakened the pro-US Arab regimes.
You can measure the fear felt by these regimes by the size of the new fortifications that have appeared around the Egyptian embassy in west Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city.
Rolls of razor wire surround the neighbourhood near the embassy. Behind them soldiers point machine guns at groups of demonstrators who often gather to demand Egypt open its border crossing with Gaza.
Public criticism of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak, a key US ally in the region, has become common, as have street clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
From Egypt to Jordan, Turkey to Saudi Arabia, diverse and spontaneous protests have rattled the regimes. When they appeared in Arab capitals, they were met by riot police, tear gas, rubber bullets and mass arrests.
In response ordinary people have taken to the streets of villages and towns – a wave of protest made up of thousands of local actions.
These protests have put immense pressure on opposition parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to call for major demonstrations.
I got a glimpse of these protests in Beirut on the day of Israel’s ceasefire. Health workers and emergency crews drove ambulances around the city with sirens blaring against the refusal of Israel to allow in humanitarian aid.
Organisations as diverse as the Sunni Islamists and the left held protests outside the Arab League building, the Egyptian consulate and the US embassy compound.
One indication of the depth of the mood was an unprecedented vigil last week held in the heart of Christian east Beirut, a place long under the control of right wing parties who are deeply hostile to the Palestinians.
These protests have galvanised opposition to imperialism into harsh criticism of the Arab regimes. In protesters’ sights are Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – all of which have close links to the US.
Mubarak has become the main focus of anger. To try to defuse this, he dispatched his son to the border with Gaza as a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians. But it did not work.
Other leaders who were seen as complicit with Israel’s actions could not escape the public humiliation. Protesters denounced Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, along with the Jordanian king.
Israel’s strategy of mass terror relied on the Arab regimes to deflect blame for Gaza’s suffering onto the “intransigence” of the Palestinian resistance.
But this plan backfired, with pro-US regimes finding themselves isolated across the region.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia boycotted a conference for Arab heads of states organised by Qatar to push for a ceasefire. During the conference, Qatar, which has some diplomatic ties with Israel, announced these links would be suspended.
In response to the Egyptian and Saudi boycott, Qatar invited Iran – considered a pariah state by the West – and Turkey, which has longstanding military links to Israel and is a key member of the Nato military alliance.
The Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan used the meeting to demand that the United Nations expel Israel from the world body for refusing to implement its ceasefire resolutions. Iran seized the opportunity to break its international isolation.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia found themselves out in the cold.
Despite their overwhelming military superiority, the Israelis found they had run out of time and friends.
Israel and its allies are now also paying a hefty political price for the war on Gaza.
The US had been pushing Arab regimes to ease any criticism of Israel and crush those who advocated support for the resistance.
Whatever its claims to victory, Israel’s war has rebounded badly on it and pro-Western regimes in the Middle East.
The mood of anger and frustration against imperialism has grown deeper and become more widespread.
Eyewitness report: Israel is guilty of war crimes
Human rights worker Caoimhe Butterly speaks out from Gaza
Israel has been using banned weapons such as white phosphorus and Dime bombs during its assault on Gaza, according to eyewitness evidence from Irish activist Caoimhe Butterly.
Caoimhe is a human rights worker based in Gaza since September. She was out of the country when the bombing started, but managed to slip back in around two weeks ago. She has since visited some of the places shelled by the Israelis.
“I was in the city of Beit Lahia and the Jabalia refugee camp not long after a UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] school was hit,” she told Socialist Worker on Tuesday of this week. “Two young brothers were killed and over 40 people were wounded.
“The boys were killed by tank shells fired into the school – but there was also white phosphorous dropped there. When we arrived there were still sponge-like particles on the ground. They remain ignited for hours after they’ve been dropped.
“I’ve visited lots of hospitals and talked to doctors. They point to the burns that are coming in and saying they’ve never dealt with such burns before.
“Doctors also point to the use of Dime bombs. These contain a type of explosive that fragments into tiny metal filaments. These get carried around in the bloodstream and shred your internal organs.
“The doctors pointed to patients who had been admitted in a stable condition – but later died of these Dime wounds.
“There has to be recognition that the Israeli army perpetrated war crimes against a captive civilian population.”
Caoimhe explained how Israeli ground troops used bulldozers to clear areas of Gaza that had already been devastated by three weeks of bombing.
“Yesterday I went to a farming village in the north of Gaza,” she said. “There’s not a single building left standing – they bombed every single house.
“People are completely alone. You just see people in shock sitting in the ruins of their homes. Others are still digging in the rubble, often with their bare hands, looking for the bodies of loved ones. The Palestinians have very little access to earth-moving machinery or bulldozers. Help from relief agencies is also very scarce.”
As Socialist Worker spoke to Caoimhe over the phone we heard explosions in the background. “That’s more shelling starting, by the way,” she casually commented.
“There are regular ceasefire violations by the Israeli army. I was working up north on the first day of the ceasefire when they started shelling. Four people were killed – a mother and child and two farmers.”
Caoimhe initially tried to return to Gaza on the boat Dignity, which set sail from Cyprus to try and bring in medical supplies for the Palestinians. But the Israeli navy rammed the boat and it had to divert to Lebanon.
She eventually managed to return via the
Rafah crossing to Egypt – despite the border being kept shut on the orders of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak.
“Israel’s siege has had a devastating effect on Gaza’s humanitarian structure,” said Caoimhe. “But this would have been so much less if the Rafah crossing had been open. People understand that the Egyptian government has been complicit in perpetuation of the siege.”