Gaza is a tragedy in three dimensions. Innocent people die. The stalemate on a West Bank agreement hardens. World attention is diverted from the crimes of the Assad regime in Syria and Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. Any prospect of reversing these setbacks depends crucially on an appreciation of how we got to this dangerously untenable place.
There is not the slightest shadow of a doubt who is to blame. It is Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization beholden to its paymasters in Tehran. Hamas is dedicated by its charter to the destruction of Israel. In April 1993, it gave the world the suicide bomber. Later that year, Yassir Arafat for the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Yitzhak Rabin for Israel signed the Oslo Accords, affording a measure of self-government to the Palestinian Authority, which was responsible for West Bank and Gaza. Hamas denounced the peace agreement. It stepped up its vile campaign of suicide bombing and the United States identified it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a typically bold move, ended military occupation of Gaza and the world applauded. The Palestinians, divided in allegiance between the more secular Fatah and ideological Islamists of Hamas, could not unite to make the best of their opportunity to create a viable state. Both sides murdered perceived enemies. Hamas built a better social network than a corrupt Fatah, but it was Hamas that sabotaged whatever slim chances there were that a united Gaza would flourish as an independent entity. In a symbolic rejection of a path to peace, its thugs wrecked the greenhouse businesses left by the reluctantly departing Israeli settlers.
A year later it staged a bloody coup against Fatah whereupon Fatah purged Hamas from the West Bank. To the surprise of the United States, Hamas won elections to the Palestinian parliament, elections it has been afraid to hold again: The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reported poll findings in March this year of a "significant" decline in the popularity of both Hamas and of the rival Palestinian leadership of Fatah on the West Bank. For Hamas, deliberately provoking two wars in Gaza, first in 2008-9 and again in 2012, is a convenient marriage of hate and tactics to divert attention from its failings. Hence the so-called "blockade" of Gaza, which means continuous Israeli attempts to block the passage of war material into Gaza.
Islamic Jihad began firing home-made primitive Qassam rockets into Israel in 2005. Hamas, as a government, adopted the same tactic. It broke a June 2008 truce brokered by Egypt, firing some 329 rockets into Southern Israel. The Israeli Defense Force did not retaliate. The international community took no notice of Israel's warnings; nor did Hamas. The world woke up only on the 27th of December when Israel finally responded with air strikes. On January 3rd, 2009, Israel sent planes and tanks into Gaza for the three-week action known as Operation Cast Lead, which was aimed at destroying Hamas military installations. Israel risked its own soldiers and airmen by imposing unprecedented restraint upon them even as Hamas left the Palestinians exposed. Hamas’s war crime of launching rockets into southern Israel was ignored. But Israel was immediately accused by the anti-Israeli cohorts East and West of a “disproportionate” response without anyone asking: What is a ‘proportionate’ response to an enemy dedicated to exterminating your own people, one who dismisses every warning, every appeal?’ The self-appointed moralists talk as if a country under attack should choose suicide instead of defense.
The IDF withdrew on January 21st but the moral world had been turned upside down. Israel, defending its own citizens, was pictured as the criminal aggressor while the attacker was portrayed as the victim. This perception was heightened by the infamous report from the South African Justice Richard Goldstone who unwisely accepted a loaded commission from the ludicrous United Nations Human Rights Council. The resolution was to “dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission, to be appointed by the President of the Council, to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression, and calls upon Israel not to obstruct the process of investigation and to fully cooperate with the mission”.
But Israel was not an “occupying power” in Gaza. The resolution blithely skipped over the fact of its withdrawal four years earlier. It ignored the indisputable fact that Hamas is committed not just to fight Israeli soldiers, but to fight a genocidal religious war, simple and evil. And that Hamas had by then already launched 7,000 rockets—7,000, every one intended to kill as many Jews as possible. Judge Goldstone later retracted his shameful report but the damage was done.
On this score, Hamas could count the first Gaza war as something of a propaganda success—one it plainly believes it can repeat. It has received support from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a one-time moderate who had aspired to membership in the liberal West. He is now plainly seeking to lead the Islamic world, and in doing so justifies all those in Europe who thought Turkey insufficiently respectful of human rights to be accorded membership. Erdogan's regime is ideological and authoritarian: it is not China, or Iran, which jails the greatest number of its reporters and commentators, but Erdogan's Turkey. This is the man who now has the nerve to call Israel a "terrorist" state.
Again, Hamas deliberately places its fighters and their weaponry among civilians so that every woman and child caught in the fighting can be presented to the world as a pitiable victim of Israeli aggression. Hamas military commander Ahmed Jabari, who has tormented Israel for a decade, devised this cunning but cowardly tactic of using civilians as human shields.
He was killed in a precision air strike at the beginning of this war. All told Hamas has launched 12,000 rocket and mortar attacks on Israel, and now with Iranian equipment, money, and training, it has longer range missiles which can threaten Tel Aviv. But for Israeli ingenuity and the invention (with U.S. assistance) of the antimissile Iron Dome system it's likely that Hamas-Iran would now have killed scores it not hundreds of Israelis. Israel's recently concluded "Pillars of Defense" air attacks were aimed at taking out the rocket sites, especially the new longer-range Fajr-5 missiles, which had come from Iran. The residential surroundings from which Hamas launches its attacks are clear on videos showing these launches. Meanwhile Hamas’s strategic leader, Khaled Meshaal, sits safely in Doha, Qatar, having fled Jordan where he was accused of subversion, and then Damascus after it got too hot for him. He is a clever man with blood on his hands—his own people’s more than that of his Israeli enemies.
It is nauseating to think of such a person having any influence on negotiations being brokered by new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who like Meshaal is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom Hamas sees as an ally. For Morsi, though, it is a chance to show that he puts Egyptian interests first ahead of the Hamas fanatics who so betray the hopes of the larger Palestinian population for peace and prosperity. He has said he is determined to close down the myriad of tunnels from Sinai into Gaza by which money and armaments reach Hamas.
It is clearly in Egypt's interests to maintain the peace treaty with Israel and continue to receive the billions of dollars of U.S. aid.
This should surely be the last time Hamas can be allowed to play this game of provocations and propaganda. And surely this time Israel cannot yield to the clamor for a cease fire that leaves Hamas to do what it did after 2009—bringing in still more rockets and arms through the tunnels from Sinai to Gaza while the world again turns a blind eye. (How else but through global myopia could Iran, supposedly under strict sanctions, move the money around to accomplish its support for Hamas?) President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have inescapably defended Israel's right and duty to defend its citizens, but the United States must put all its muscle and money toward seeing that any peace deal is durable. It must see to the elimination of the long-range missiles, pledge Hamas to control all the militias it blames for attacks (when it suits), and it must be a peace enforceable by Egypt with guaranteed retribution for every violation.But it must also rethink the whole attitude to a peace settlement on the West Bank, a prospect now even further diminished by a weakening of the leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who spend time and energy politicking at the U.N. rather than taking up Israel's offer of talks. The United States cannot fail to recognize the force of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's argument that Israel cannot risk annihilation by simply withdrawing from the West Bank as it withdrew from Gaza, and he is proving correct in his warning that Iran daily advances toward nuclear missiles.
The ceasefire that was negotiated is welcome. They are always welcome. But this ceasefire does not solve the fundamental problem: that the influx of thousands of rockets into Gaza, supplied primarily by Iran, constitutes and remains an existential threat to Israel.
A cliché about terrorism is that if a terrorist survives after a terrorist attack, the terrorist has won. Well, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in Gaza have survived.
- Read Michael P. Noonan: On Thanksgiving, Be Thankful for Our Peaceful Political Process
- Read Barbara Slavin: What Obama's Re-Election Means for U.S.-Iran Negotiations
- Read Heather Hurlburt: Syria, Afghanistan, Drones Are Top Topics for Defense Community
Corrected on 11/26/12:An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of the capital of Qatar. It is Doha.