In the immediate aftermath of the bloody terrorist attacks that took the lives of eight Israelis in the Eilat region, I wrote on Thursday the incident illustrated the pitfalls of allowing a Hamas terror state to be situated on Israel’s doorstep. The decision of the Hamas regime in Gaza to launch a barrage of approximately 100 missiles at southern Israel since then has made that danger all the more palpable. Though Jerusalem hopes it can avoid a further escalation (such as the commitment of ground troops), recent events call into question its ability to deter further attacks.
The mainstream media has reported these attacks and even the assaults on Eilat and Israel’s counter-attacks against the bases in Gaza from which the terrorists set forth as if they were just another episode in the so-called “cycle of violence” between Arabs and Jews. But these latest incidents bring into focus the futility of an American Middle East policy whose sole focus has been to pressure Israel to accommodate Palestinian ambitions. The Palestinian state that already exists in Gaza is a loaded gun pointed at Israel’s head every moment. Its leaders also seem to believe the price of another Israeli counter-offensive such as the one that took place in December 2008 is too fraught with danger — both in terms of the loss of Israeli life and the international opprobrium that it would incur no matter how careful its troops were in seeking to avoid civilian casualties — for Netanyahu to consider measures that might truly threaten them.
Israel can continue to try to use air strikes to hit the leadership of the groups behind the Thursday attacks as well as weapons factories and other military targets such as the tunnels through which military supplies are smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. But as devastating as these blows can be, they do not change the basic equation of the situation. Hamas is dug in inside Gaza and believes it can hit Israel with impunity. And it is counting on its international cheering section to treat any Israel counter-attack as if it were a war crime.
So long as Hamas can attack Israel any time it wants, it can effectively veto any chance of peace with Palestinian moderates should any turn up who would actually be willing to sign a peace accord. The missiles from Gaza should also serve to remind both Israelis and the international community that Hamas’ deadly attacks are the true face of Palestinian independence. While the vast majority of Israelis would be glad to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank provided this meant the end of the conflict, Gaza provides a glimpse of what that state might well become. That is something no one in the Obama administration seems to want to think about as it continues to push for Israeli concessions. And it is also something UN member states should consider when they are asked to vote next month in favor of Palestinian independence without first forcing them to make peace with Israel.