As Muslims, we can appreciate that it was Allah SWT alone who defended the Kabah from being destroyed by Abrahah and his army of elephants- but in the time in which it took place, before the advant of Islam, the religion of the majority of the Arabs lied in idolatry. Though they believed in Allah as the "supreme" god, they credited their religious successes to His "mediators," the idols. So place yourselves for a moment in this setting: you live in a prosperous land (Mecca), which had, "developed the reputation in Arabia of being the premiere site for religious pilgrimage" (p.23), it had tied to its roots the legend of the patriarch Abraham (A) and his son Ishma'el (A), and the abundance of the Zamzam well also. Now there comes this guy who builds this huge holy shrine of his own in a distant land (Abyssinia; modern day Ethiopia), with the best architectural designs of the time, in the hopes that it will divert the traffic going to Mecca to his holy site instead. My first thought would be who does this guy think he is, coming in here thinking he can change generations old of a tradition?! Needless to say, Abrahah's attempt to get the Meccans (and everyone in general) to pay pilgrimage to his shrine, was fruitless and this angered him with so much jealousy that he decided to go and destroy the Kabah.
So basically, at this point, it's a war of religion. And this is exactly how the Meccans viewed it; so much so that after the entire ordeal passed (with the Kabah still standing, and Abrahah and his army painfully defeated by the miracles of Allah), it strengthened the Meccan Arabs in the matter of religion. Believing that since the idols had protected the Kabah from crumbling, they perceived that their's was therefore the stronger, and correct system of beliefs. From this point on, the elders of Mecca took measures to secure the survival of their faith by prohibiting any Christian or Jew from entering the city unless they were a pilgrim, slave, or servant- fearing that monotheists (as represented by Abrahah, who was a Christian) would try to destroy "the center of idolatry in Arabia" (p.27). This is why "no Jewish or Christian community ever took roote in Mecca" (p.27).
Emerick goes on to describe how 'Abdel-Mutallib (the Prophet's (S) grandfather) especially epitomized the religious traditions of the Meccan Arabs (p.28). Since he was already a deeply pious man, this event of Abrahah and the elephants, refinding the Zamzam well, and barely escaping the ordeal of sparing his youngest and favourite son ('Abdullah, the Prophet's (S) father) from being sacrificed (a pledge he had made to Allah if he were blessed with 10 sons, he would sacrifce one of them) strengthened his faith in the traditional beliefs all the more. B/c 'Abdel-Mutallib was such a respected man who honored the traditional beliefs, it is no wonder then that the Prophet's (S) uncles (and other near relatives) were some of the most opposed to Islam in the beginning, and the hardest to convince of its message.
So overall, I think that important lessons are to be derived from the event. For one, it underlines our own limited understanding of why things happen the way they do, where we attribute it's happening to what is most current in our lives, whereas we should understand that everything comes from, and occurs by the Will of Allah. The Meccans, for example, knew no other way of believing other than in their idols, and so they associated every outcome in life within the control and power of the idols they worshipped- that something good happened b/c it was in their favour or luck, and that bad befell them for other reasons. Imagine the consequences of living in such ignorance? By that token, since the entire event totally renewed some of the Meccan's spirit in their own faith of idolatry, imagine how incredibly difficult it must have been for the Prophet (S) to face such a group of people? And even then, so many came into the fold of Islam; subhanAllah then, that only reinforces the fact that Allah SWT truly guides those whom He wills, those who sincerely seek the truth.