Hamas spokesmen are saying they lost fewer soldiers than did the Israelis, and that they destroyed 47 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles. The carcasses of those machines have yet to be displayed for the cameras. And, by most accounts, Hamas fighters were short on both skills and fervor, despite Iranian and Hezbollah training. Many Hamas military commanders removed their uniforms and hid among women and children. "They turned houses and mosques into battlegrounds so that the people would protect them and those who trusted them now regret it," wrote Abd al-Fattah Shehadeh in the on-line Arabic newspaper ELAPH.
The European Union has warned that while humanitarian aid will be forthcoming, Gazans should not expect reconstruction assistance if Hamas continues to provoke new battles. "We don't want to go on to reconstruct Gaza every I-don't-know-how-many-years," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "We have been at the side of the Palestinian population always and we will be at their side, but at the same time it's also for the Palestinian population on both sides to say, ‘We want this peace.'"
That's a taller order than she probably understands. Prior to this battle it was not clear that most Palestinians wanted peace more than they wanted Israel's extinction. It's too soon to say whether their minds have been changed by the suffering they have endured. Even if that is the case, it would be unsafe for Gazans to say out loud that they'd prefer compromise in pursuit of coexistence to martyrdom in pursuit of victory.
There are those who will argue that Hamas wins merely by having survived. But Israel would have lost had it not fought -- had it continued to passively accept an endless rain of Hamas missiles on its citizens. Israelis knew that President Bush, during his final weeks in office, would not object if they tried to stop that rain. They don't yet know what President Obama will do in a similar circumstance.
Over the days ahead, Hamas may resume its attacks on Israel, or dig new tunnels to smuggle in new missiles to prepare for future attacks. If so, Israel may feel the need to respond strongly -- to re-establish deterrence and demonstrate that it can withstand pressure from those in the "international community" all too eager to try to appease radical Islam.
Iran will continue its drive to acquire nuclear weapons, a potential game-changer. But this is no game. It's a series of battles in a war that is likely to be as consequential as any in history.