The Gaza war of 2014 will end in a cease-fire, just as the previous rounds between Israel and Hamas and the 2006 battle with Hezbollah ended. But the war will be won or lost less in the streets and tunnels of Gaza this summer than when the fighting is over. Israel must not only damage Hamas on those battlegrounds, but seal its own gains in the terms of the cease-fire, and ensure that the aftermath of the war weakens Hamas's hold on Gaza and its role in Palestinian politics.
This summer, Israel had no choice but to attack Hamas once the terrorist group decided to unleash rocket and missile fire at Israel's cities, a point that not only the United States but even our fickle European allies understood. The discovery—new to us in the West even if partially understood by Israeli intelligence agencies—of a vast attack tunnel system designed to enable Hamas to kidnap Israelis and to wreak havoc in Israeli communities near the Gaza border also justified the Israeli assault and meant that a ground attack was necessary.
When the combat ends, it will not immediately be clear who gained what. In 2006 most Israelis saw the Lebanon war as a failure. Hezbollah lost men and assets but remained (and remains now) in charge in much of Lebanon and possessing both a powerful terrorist force and serious conventional capabilities. But now, after eight years of calm along that border and after Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah admitted that he would never have started the 2006 war had he known how fierce would be the Israeli response, what Israel achieved seems more like a victory.
One reason Israelis did not feel that they had won a victory in 2006 was the announcement of excessive war aims by Israel's then prime minister, Ehud Olmert.