Hamas terrorists scored one of their few “victories” in their war with Israel today when a mortar fired from Gaza struck a car across the border in Israel killing a four-year-old child. But while this may encourage the Islamists to believe they can win a long-running battle of attrition and force the Jewish state and/or Egypt to make concessions that will enable Hamas to hold onto Gaza as well as to rearm, the leaders of the terrorist movement are making a big mistake.
Palestinians will celebrate the death of the four-year-old as an act of revenge for all those who were killed in Gaza this summer as part of the war launched by Hamas. But while the foreign press that has either been intimidated by Hamas or willingly touts their point of view will try to place this event in a context in which many Palestinian children have died, the fact remains that Israel is shooting at terrorists who hide among civilians. Hamas aims its weapons specifically at civilians. Though almost all of its rockets aimed at Israeli citizens have been shot down or fell helpless in open areas, the Iron Dome missile defense system can’t stop mortar fire shot directly over the border and occasionally one hits its target.
Israelis know that if most of Hamas’s rockets were as successful as their one mortar shell today, perhaps the world would regard their plight with more sympathy. But in the absence of scores or hundreds of dead Jews, one child’s murder along with the terrorization of huge portions of their country isn’t likely to generate empathy for them.
Yet neither grief over today’s atrocity or a sense of isolation as the world treats the ongoing war on the Jewish state as an excuse for a surge in anti-Semitism will give Hamas the advantage it thinks it can win by refusing to halt the hostilities.
Hamas’s strategy in the cease-fire talks is clear. It knows that Israel’s government is not interested in paying the high price in casualties and international criticism that will result from another Gaza ground offensive whose object would be the elimination of the Islamist hold on the strip. But it knows that in order to justify its decision to go to war against Israel this summer to ordinary Palestinians it must produce some kind of concessions from the Jewish state. Their objective remains the loosening or the removal of the blockade of Gaza that has been enforced since the terrorist group seized the strip in a 2007 coup.
By continuing to make Israel bleed over the course of the coming days, weeks, or months without bringing down upon themselves the anger of the world, Hamas believes it can weaken the resolve of the Israelis and perhaps even generate some pressure on Egypt’s government as well. This belief is rooted in a common misperception about the Israelis that is often voiced throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. While they are forced to acknowledge Israel’s military, technological, and economic superiority over its enemies, they believe the Jews have a weak point that can be ruthlessly exploited.
Unlike Hamas, which cold-heartedly and deliberately puts Palestinian civilians in harm’s way in order to protect its fighters and arsenal, Israel prioritizes the protection of its population. Moreover, it goes to great lengths to redeem hostages, even paying for the remains of dead Israelis with live terrorist prisoners. That leads the Islamists to believe that no Israeli government can go on watching as its citizens are picked off and forced to run for shelter even when the Iron Dome is knocking down Hamas’s rockets. Thus, they think that if they can only hold on while they keep shooting, sooner or later the Israelis will buckle and grant them the victory they truly crave.
Hamas knows that any loosening of the blockade won’t do much for Palestinian civilians, but it will allow them to replenish their supply of rockets and other arms as well as to acquire the materials to start digging more tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks on Israeli civilians. Moreover, Hamas also knows that the talk about putting the Palestinian Authority in charge of border crossings in order to prevent the flow of arms is a joke. The PA is both weak and corrupt and its forces haven’t a prayer if forced to line up against Hamas cadres even if they were willing to take them on, which they almost certainly have no intention of doing.
The belief in the utility of a war of attrition against Israel is widely accepted by both the Jewish state’s enemies and many of its friends who think the status quo, whether in the West Bank or along the border with Gaza, is unsustainable. But they are wrong. The assumption that Israel can’t hold on in the face of this terrible threat with a clear end to it in sight is unfounded.
From the first day of its existence, Israel has always been faced with confrontations and dilemmas that seemed to be unsustainable. And yet they have been sustained while Israel not only survived but also thrived. The Arabs have always believed that in a long-term conflict the Jews would tire of having to defend their country against a siege aimed at their destruction. But after 66-plus years, it’s time for them to admit they were wrong.
As unpleasant as the standoff in the West Bank may be and as bloody as the border with Gaza has become, the overwhelming majority of Israelis know they have no alternative but to keep fighting and refusing to die. The fact that there is no “solution” in sight for the conflict, whether of the two-state kind or any other variety, is disheartening. But it hasn’t weakened the resolve of the Israeli people to carry on with their lives. Moreover, the experiences of the post-Oslo era have convinced most that any further concessions, such as the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 that created the Hamasistan that continues to shoot at Israeli cities, are a mistake that should not be repeated.
Hard as it may be for some to understand, the Middle East conflict really is as simple as this: the Jews have returned to their land, never to be separated from it again. And not all the mortars and rockets fired from Hamas will change that fact. If anyone appears tired, it is Hamas, which is rapidly running out of options and reduced to mass executions outside of Gaza mosques in order to maintain their rule. Those expecting Israel to lose this battle of attrition are backing the wrong horse.