The Gaza crisis and the game of rock paper scissors

The Israeli Ambassador to the US was quoted yesterday as saying “Israel has taken great care to avoid civilian casualties, but we’re fighting an enemy that not only fires at our civilians but hides behind their civilians. That’s the problem.”. This is exactly the heart of the problem and this is where Hamas’ strategy is trying to wrap the military superiority of Israel back around and against Israel. Unfortunately this is why Israel may persist punishing Hamas and the Palestinians longer than it would be acceptable on humanitarian grounds. This situation, in other words, is one in which Hamas is trying to play rock paper scissors on Israel.

In life most functions that matter in economics, politics strategic interactions etc are monotonic: the more of a certain input the more its related output. So more military power is better than less. Right? Wrong. If you overwhelm a few Hamas fighters with shoulder rocket launchers using heavy artillery, fancy technology or some other form of punishment public opinion will read just another report on fighting in Gaza. If you however use that same overwhelming force on civilians public opinion will turn against you. This is exactly where the game is played. Israel insists that Hamas is using civilians to shield their weapons and Hamas is showing the world all the civilians the Israelis have killed. What is true? Probably both. The two sides have a dispute to solve with a long history of mistrust and Israel has originally been beating Hamas’ “paper” with “scissors” i.e. more force against less force. The Israeli “scissors” became, in time, so dominant that Hamas had no chance with its “paper”. It also could not acquire the same kind of force to compete. So what do you do if your force (“paper”) is not enough to fight their super force (“scissors”). You try to wrap it around on them: if instead of trying to increase your power you reduce it somehow, so if instead of choosing “paper” you choose the worse option of “stone” (civilians) then all of a sudden your “stone” is better than their “scissors”. So if instead of fighting the unfair fight of an under-equipped Hamas army against the Israeli war machine you confront that war machine with women and children then you turn your weakest option into your strength. Hamas’ strategy of (as Israel insists) using women and children as a shield, if true, is probably the result of the Israeli military dominance. In other words in military confrontation more force is better than less force but no force beats super force! In the court of public opinion it is worse using super power on civilians (what the Israelis are doing) than using small force against civilians (what Hamas is accused of having done to provoke the wrath of the Israeli army). This non monotonicity is what Hamas is exploiting and what Israelis will not allow. If you are looking for who is guilty you are confronted with a chicken and egg conundrum. We are in for a lot of bloodshed.

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