Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gaza

The Price in Palestinian Lives of Israel’s Gaza Pullout

Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

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Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

Here, too, a comparison to the second intifada is instructive. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, 1,727 Palestinians were killed in Gaza between September 2000, when the intifada began, and the August 2005 pullout. Since then, the numbers have soared. Another 1,271 Palestinians were killed between the pullout and December 2008, when the first Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began; 1,391 were killed during that war, and 481 between then and the start of the current war. That’s 3,143 Palestinian fatalities in total, and Palestinians claim another 1,600 or so have been killed during this war. So even if you assume, which I do, that B’Tselem’s numbers are exaggerated (it tends to believe Palestinian reports far too uncritically), the trend is undeniable: Since the pullout, Israeli-Palestinian fighting has produced more than twice as many Palestinian fatalities as the peak years of the second intifada did.

Moreover, as in the case of Israeli fatalities, this increase represents a sharp contrast to the trend in the West Bank, which the Israel Defense Forces still control: There, Palestinian fatalities have fallen from 1,491 between September 2000 and August 2005 to 395 in the nine years since August 2005, meaning annual fatalities have fallen by more than 85 percent (they haven’t dropped to zero because neither has Palestinian terror; terror attacks still kill Israelis every year, but the level is dramatically lower than at the height of the intifada).

The question is why Palestinian fatalities in Gaza have risen so sharply. The anti-Israel crowd will doubtless cite this fact as “proof” that recent Israeli premiers are even more bloodthirsty than “the butcher of Beirut,” as they fondly dubbed Ariel Sharon, the prime minister during the second intifada. But anyone not convinced that Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu are simply monsters who like eating Palestinian children for breakfast will have to consider the obvious alternative: Palestinian casualties have soared because the IDF’s departure from Gaza allowed terrorist organizations to entrench their rockets, tunnels, and explosives among the civilian population in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.

In the current war, Palestinians have stored rockets in schools and launched them from hospitals and from amid civilian houses. They have built cross-border tunnels to attack Israel that pass under civilian houses and emerge straight into a mosque. They have booby-trapped civilian houses and even health clinics. In short, by embedding their war material among the civilian population, Hamas and other terrorist organizations have made it impossible for the IDF to target them without also hitting civilians.

This Hamas strategy increases Palestinian casualties in another way as well: by magnifying the impact of any Israeli strike. Precision bombs can sometimes take out a building without touching the ones next to it. But precision strikes don’t work when the building they hit is booby-trapped or serves as a rocket warehouse; in that case, secondary explosions will create a much broader swathe of destruction. And Israel has no way of knowing when a target has been booby-trapped; Hamas doesn’t provide it with maps.

Problems like this didn’t arise when the IDF still controlled Gaza, because it could take preventive action to keep Hamas from entrenching war material in civilian areas to begin with. And that’s precisely why counterterrorism operations in the IDF-controlled West Bank have produced vastly lower Palestinian casualties.

Hamas certainly isn’t going to abandon its “dead baby strategy” voluntarily; conducting operations from amid a civilian population so as to maximize civilian casualties has proven wildly successful in turning the world against Israel. The conclusion is thus inescapable: Should the IDF ever leave the West Bank, the pullout won’t just result in more dead Israelis. It will certainly result in more dead Palestinians as well.

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Rewarding Hamas for Its Crimes

Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

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Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

The most immediate reward for Hamas has been in the field of public relations, and here the international media–perhaps unwittingly–has been incredibly cooperative. A public-relations victory for Hamas does not require anyone to say anything nice about Hamas. The objective is simply to tarnish Israel in an effort to mobilize world opinion against the Jewish state. Hamas’s extensive use of human shields must be primarily understood in this context. By embedding its terror infrastructure in civilian areas Hamas doesn’t simply seek to deter Israeli attacks, but inevitably this tactic is about pushing up the civilian casualty rate on its own side. The more civilians killed in Gaza, the better it is for Hamas.

The greater attention the media devotes to these casualties, the more hysterically it flaunts these images of apparent Israeli barbarism, the more Israel is condemned and the more it comes under pressure to restrain its military activities against Hamas. The very upsurge in killing that reporters declare must be brought to an end is in fact encouraged by their own incessant reporting. The more that the press emphasizes civilian suffering in Gaza, the more it is in Hamas’s interest to keep that suffering coming. Hence, Hamas has learned that the prime location to operate from is adjacent to UN facilities. Israel then has the choice of either not returning fire or doing so with the risk of hitting a UN compound and thus igniting a frenzy of condemnation against itself.

This condemnation at the diplomatic level is another key part of the Hamas strategy. An Israel that is chastised by its allies for these military operations soon becomes unable to do anything meaningful to counter Hamas. Furthermore, this kind of open criticism adds to a wider perception that Israel should be isolated and perhaps even ejected from the community of nations. The decision by the UN human rights council to investigate war crimes in Gaza is a particularly important victory for Hamas on this front. It is true that the UNHRC is supposed to be investigating Hamas as well as Israel, but since Hamas is already a proscribed terrorist organization it really has nothing to lose as far as international standing is concerned. Israel, on the other hand, has very much to lose from being presented in this way.

Hamas always knew that in provoking this war it would cause a humanitarian crisis that would in turn lead to an international outcry. Western publics appalled by the images being endlessly flashed across their television screens will understandably demand that “something be done.” That something comes in the form generous pledges of financial assistance for Gaza. Prior to the outbreak of this war Hamas was broke. It couldn’t even afford to pay its civil servants. Now every government around the world is writing big checks for the authorities in Gaza; the U.S. alone has pledged $47 million. But since Hamas runs the ministries and public services of Gaza, this financial assistance will help keep Hamas rule afloat well into the foreseeable future.

This of course is the third war in Gaza in recent years. It should be clear by now that culpability rests with Hamas. Each time these wars have erupted at the point that increasing rocket fire from Gaza forced an Israeli response. Yet Western leaders—most prominently president Obama–have gradually been adopting the Hamas narrative that insists the underlying cause of all of this violence is actually Israeli policy, and that while the rockets may be illegitimate, they are the result of legitimate Palestinian grievances. These grievances, we’re told, center on the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza. In reality that blockade only concerns items that could potentially be used for terrorist activities, but Hamas insists Gaza’s borders must be fully open. Such a move would not only bolster Hamas rule but it would allow for a free flow of weapons into Gaza.

It appears that negotiations for a full truce will soon commence in Cairo and an expectant Hamas has submitted an extensive list of demands. But we’ve been here before. Last time there was a war in Gaza it ended with the November 2012 ceasefire agreement that greatly eased the blockade and granted a host of other concessions to Hamas. We now risk sending the message that whenever Hamas would like some more concessions it need only let us know by provoking another war and getting large numbers of Palestinians killed. This is a crime. If the world is serious about preventing yet another Gaza war erupting in the near future, then it must resist rewarding Hamas for these outrages. That means no concessions at the diplomatic level and  a recognition that the Western media’s addiction to dramatic footage is causing it to serve as the primary outlet for Hamas’s emotive propaganda war.

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On Casualty Figures in Gaza

The numbers killed in Gaza, at least according to the international media, continue to rise. Several journalists and analysts have already suggested that the civilian casualty figures released by Hamas and/or the Palestinian Authority should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should, but this is nothing new. There’s a hunger for facts and figures which drives media and any number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Too often, journalists and diplomats will accept figures coming from a self-declared authority regardless of how rigorous or politicized data collection is.

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The numbers killed in Gaza, at least according to the international media, continue to rise. Several journalists and analysts have already suggested that the civilian casualty figures released by Hamas and/or the Palestinian Authority should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should, but this is nothing new. There’s a hunger for facts and figures which drives media and any number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Too often, journalists and diplomats will accept figures coming from a self-declared authority regardless of how rigorous or politicized data collection is.

Sometimes, incompetence and negligence combine to lead to inaccuracy. In 1997, while working in Tajikistan, I met with the head of the Tajik Bureau of Statistics. Tajikistan was in the midst of a civil war and it was the poorest former Soviet republic by far. And yet the Tajikistan Bureau of Statistics was churning out complete datasets, information which the World Bank and International Monetary Fund incorporated into their reports, as would the international press should anything in Tajikistan become newsworthy. When I asked the chief how he managed to do it, he was uncharacteristically blunt. “I make them up,” he told me. But if the U.S. government would give him computers and fund his operation, he could try to be accurate. In the meantime, any report using Tajik statistics would be corrupted by the equivalent of “garbage-in, garbage-out.”

Sometimes, organizations simply don’t care if faulty statistics pollute their reports. The notion that sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqi children has become part of progressive folklore, a statistic often trotted out to excuse any sort of coercion against dictatorial, anti-American, or rogue regimes. Unfortunately, it’s nonsense.

The idea that sanctions were killing innocent Iraqis was the central pillar of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s influence operations. He repeatedly claimed that United Nations sanctions had killed more than a million. There were many groups in the United States which latched onto such figures and amplified them. The U.S.-based International Action Coalition, for example, claimed that the economic embargo upon Iraq had killed 1.4 million people by 1997.

Thousands did die, but not the numbers bandied about in the press and simply because of sanctions: There was plenty of food available; Saddam just refused to allow it to be distributed to Shi‘ites and other populations he disliked. All the while, he exported UN-provided baby formula for profit.

While pundits accepted Saddam’s line and news agencies like CNN dutifully broadcast images of sick and dying children (all the while knowing the inaccuracy of their narrative), Iraq expert Amatzia Baram compared the country’s population growth rates across censuses and found Iraq’s growth rate between 1977 and 1987 (35.8 percent) and between 1987 and 1997 (35.1 percent) proved that there had been no death on the scale Iraq claimed.

So how did the claim of more than a million sanctions-related deaths in Iraq persist? In 1999, UNICEF released a glossy report that found that sanctions had contributed to the deaths of one million Iraqis. The devil, however, was in the details—and in the UN’s capriciousness. Because the Iraqi government did not give UNICEF researchers free access, UNICEF decided to take statistics provided by Saddam Hussein’s Ministry of Health, which it accepted uncritically. More on the whole episode, here. When Saddam Hussein fell, however, and the exaggeration and inaccuracies of the claims of more than one million sanctions-related deaths including 500,000 children was exposed as a fraud, no major outlet bothered to publish a retraction let alone question whether bad statistics were worse than no statistics.

In Gaza, it’s déjà vu all over again. CNN and other outlets cite statistics provided by the United Nations with regard to Palestinian casualties, never questioning where and how the UN was able to gather and confirm such numbers. In reality, the UN simply parroted the figures provided it by Palestinian authorities or Hamas-controlled organizations. While there is no doubt Palestinians have died in the current operations, it seems it’s the Jenin Massacre all over again. Remember that one? Palestinian officials duped the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Samantha Power, and countless European foreign ministries. Nor does the media ever stop and question the notion of civilians to Hamas. Hamas violates the Geneva Convention in that its members do not wear uniforms and it fires from civilian areas. Even Israeli human rights groups—B’Tselem, for example—embrace a restrictive definition of combatant which enables the classification of many Hamas activists as “civilian.” As far as Hamas is concerned, every person not in uniform is a civilian.

There’s a tendency among the media to engage in moral equivalency and promote the idea that the Hamas and Palestinian claims on one hand, and the Israeli narrative on the other are equally valid. This is nonsense, especially given the long history of Palestinian politicization of statistics. This article, for example, decisively shows how the Palestinian Authority manipulates—and in some cases has even recalled—demographic statistics in order to ensure they conform with a political narrative the Palestinian Authority finds expedient and to which American diplomats respond.

More Gazans have died in the ongoing conflict—one their elected government initiated with kidnapping attempts and missile launches—than Israelis, but count me dubious about the numbers of deaths reported in the Gaza Strip. When deaths of non-combatants do occur, that is tragic, but that is also war. To accept such statistics from a terrorist group either directly or laundered through organizations like the United Nations without the capacity for independent confirmation is foolish. It promotes not truth but propaganda. And given previous errors—from a half million dead Iraqi babies to hundreds dead in Jenin—it suggests the media simply does not care to learn from its previous mistakes.

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Is Colin Powell a War Criminal?

The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

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The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

When Powell’s legacy is written, chief among it will be a series of principles relating to the use of military force which he articulated while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This so-called “Powell Doctrine” prioritized restraint and demanded a clear exit strategy when force was used. However, when military action became necessary, then Powell called for a decisive edge and overwhelming force.

Hence, in Operation Desert Storm, Americans went in with overwhelming force, and Powell did not hesitate until he reached his objective: the liberation of Kuwait and the surrender of Iraqi forces. Americans celebrated that military victory, and Kuwaitis still do. The overwhelming victory led directly to the 1991 Madrid Conference which brought Israel and Arab states like Syria together in an unprecedented way, as well as to a renewed peace process on the Korean peninsula.

Fast forward to the present day: Journalists, human-rights activists, diplomats, and foreign officials all castigate Israel for its use of disproportionate military force. Israel, however, has adhered closely to the Powell Doctrine. It deferred the current military operation for years despite multiple provocations by Hamas, which had fired hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel. Rather than resort to military force loosely, it sought to utilize diplomatic pressure to force closure of the tunnels which Hamas has constructed to smuggle weaponry, explosives, and other contraband into Gaza. However, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided he had no option but to utilize military force.

Has Israel committed war crimes? Only in the fevered imagination of the political left and those whose moral barometer has become so dangerously miscalibrated. Is Israel acting with disproportionate force? Absolutely. And should it? Well, that’s the celebrated lesson of the Powell Doctrine.

Just as the United States leveraged its industrial might and used overwhelming force in World War II against both Japan and Germany, and more recently used disproportionate force in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and again in Iraq; and just as France more recently has used disproportionate force in Libya and against al-Qaeda in Mali; so Israel now uses disproportionate force against Hamas in pursuit of aims of destroying Hamas’s tunnels, eradicating the Hamas missile threat, and rendering for a short time at least Hamas impotent. In each case, civilians died, often in numbers far greater than have been killed in Gaza.

How ironic it is that CNN and other media networks which once celebrated the wisdom of Colin Powell now condemn it when it is pursued by others. Perhaps, though, when it comes to accusations of lack of impropriety, the fact that it is Israel that is fighting terrorists is no coincidence.

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What Does It Mean to Support Israel?

Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program, is pretty good at getting publicity even if his stunts or the silly talk about the former congressman running for president hasn’t helped his show’s or his network’s sinking ratings. But Scarborough’s antics this week do give us an excuse to puncture some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.

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Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe Program, is pretty good at getting publicity even if his stunts or the silly talk about the former congressman running for president hasn’t helped his show’s or his network’s sinking ratings. But Scarborough’s antics this week do give us an excuse to puncture some myths about what it means to be pro-Israel.

Scarborough has been tearing into Israel all week for its tactics during its counter-terrorist operations in Gaza. According to Scarborough, the increasing toll of Palestinian casualties was proof that what Israel was doing was damaging to its cause. But, as is his usual practice, as the week went on, he raised the temperature on his rhetoric saying yesterday that what Israel was doing was “asinine.” When conservatives and others roundly criticized him for these denunciations, he again upped the ante today by claiming that those who didn’t agree with him were “simpleminded” and that he knew better than anyone else what it meant to be a friend of Israel.

As Politico reported:

“The prolonged killing of children and women in Palestinian territories will only serve to weaken Israel and strengthen Hamas,” he said.

Scarborough concluded by saying that U.S. supporters of Israel should not necessarily endorse all its actions. “Blindly supporting Israel and Israeli politicians — when their actions may action be strengthening their enemies and our enemies, like Hamas — is no way to show your support and no way to show your friendship,” he said.

Scarborough began each of his rants about Israel this week by claiming that everyone knew that he was always a great champion of Israel. We’ll take that assertion at face value, but whatever help the TV personality gave the pro-Israel cause during his brief and erratic congressional career doesn’t give him the right to lecture the rest of us or Israel’s government or its people as to what is in their best interests.

The argument that the gruesome pictures of Palestinian casualties don’t help Israel isn’t terribly controversial. But to claim, as Scarborough does, that these pictures should dictate a halt to military operations against Hamas terrorists, doesn’t necessarily follow.

Ironically, Scarborough’s interpretation of friendship for Israel seems to fall under the theory most often promoted by left-wing critics of the Jewish state, not its supporters. Namely, that the best way to be a friend of Israel is to criticize it and to try and prevent it from defending itself or refusing to take actions that would endanger its security.

The problem with Scarborough’s position is that those, like him, who say they are friends of Israel and support its right of self-defense and that they condemn Hamas but then go on to say that Israel should not resist Hamas terrorism or seek to take out rocket launchers or terrorist tunnels are contradicting themselves.

Responsibility for the casualties in Gaza belongs to Hamas and Hamas alone. The context of this debate is a situation in which Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, shelters its leaders, fighters, and munitions in United Nations schools and facilities as well as mosques and hospitals. To assert that Israel is forbidden from firing on any target where a civilian might be is to grant Hamas complete impunity.

Its fighters have not only rained down many rockets on their own people but also deployed huge numbers of IED explosives that have demolished more than a thousand buildings in Gaza.

While the deaths of those caught in the crossfire are tragic and regrettable, those inclined to castigate Israeli forces for not doing enough to prevent the killings should remember that U.S. soldiers conducting anti-terror operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan face the same dilemmas and could be criticized in the same manner. Would Scarborough call those efforts “asinine” or is it only Palestinians that may not be hurt and Israelis who must show restraint? Does he seriously believe that Americans, who went to the other side of the world to take out the forces that supported the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan to protect their homeland, can’t understand why Israelis refuse to let a terrorist state next door to operate with impunity?

More to the point, it should be understood that being a friend ought to mandate understanding and support in tough times, not just in good times when seeking to raise money from pro-Israel donors. Those who are rightly calling for the U.S. to support the effort to take out Hamas are not being blind. Rather it is those like Scarborough, who, despite the lip service they pay to Israel’s security, refuse to draw the logical conclusions from events that lack comprehension of what is going on.

If Scarborough wants to be a friend of Israel he might think about paying attention to the enormous shift in public opinion with the Jewish state. As Jeffrey Goldberg noted today in the Atlantic, even Israeli left-wingers who are fierce critics of Netanyahu, like novelist Amos Oz, aren’t buying into the mindset of those who oppose the Gaza operation. The normally fractious Israeli public is more united than it has ever been in its support for the effort to disarm Hamas. Anyone who is truly supportive of Israel or desirous of saving Palestinian lives should be speaking out against Hamas and calling for its defeat, not bashing the Israelis for defending their country.

Scarborough can think and speak as he likes. But if he or anyone else believes Israel should pull its punches in its efforts to take out those who launch rockets at their cities or build tunnels to commit terrorist atrocities, they are engaging in a dangerous brand of moral relativism. If so, they should try a little honesty and drop the pose of a friend of the Jewish state.

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Is the Media’s Patience with Hamas Running Out?

Watching the media in the wake of Hamas’s deadly attack and capture of an Israeli soldier, one gets the impression that the press is taking Hamas’s violation of the cease-fire personally. On CNN this morning, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour was questioned by CNN’s morning anchor Kate Bolduan with what can only be described as slightly bemused exasperation in the face of Mansour’s dissembling. Her co-host Chris Cuomo then questioned White House spokesman Josh Earnest, and pressed Earnest on whether the U.S. would demand the return of the soldier unconditionally, rather than allow Hamas the victory of negotiations over the soldier. Both had a tone of utter impatience with diplomatic cliches.

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Watching the media in the wake of Hamas’s deadly attack and capture of an Israeli soldier, one gets the impression that the press is taking Hamas’s violation of the cease-fire personally. On CNN this morning, Palestinian UN envoy Riyad Mansour was questioned by CNN’s morning anchor Kate Bolduan with what can only be described as slightly bemused exasperation in the face of Mansour’s dissembling. Her co-host Chris Cuomo then questioned White House spokesman Josh Earnest, and pressed Earnest on whether the U.S. would demand the return of the soldier unconditionally, rather than allow Hamas the victory of negotiations over the soldier. Both had a tone of utter impatience with diplomatic cliches.

We might finally be getting an answer to the question of whether Hamas can exhaust press sympathy. Yesterday, upon the announcement of the 72-hour cease-fire, journalists took to Twitter to trade jokes about what they would do with all their newfound free time. The jocular tone was not only because of the length of the cease-fire, but because it left the impression that the war might indeed be over. A three-day cease-fire, during which Israel was permitted to continue neutralizing the terror tunnels when the Israeli government’s own estimates had the IDF days away from completing the task, meant there might be no reason to resume fighting after the cease-fire. The war, it is now clear thanks to Hamas, is not over.

Both the coverage of this conflict and the diplomacy around it by the West have been poorer than usual. The press has shown about as many pictures of Hamas fighters as unicorns, and have mangled even basic international laws and conventions in order to absolve these invisible Hamasniks of the war crimes they are unambiguously committing. Because “human rights” groups have also fabricated their own version of international law, and these reporters rely on such groups, it’s easy to see how the misinformation ends up presented as straight news.

The diplomacy fared no better. Secretary of State John Kerry has earned himself quite a reputation: par for the course in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the failure to secure a deal. It takes a special degree of incompetence to attain a failure that truly stands out for its destructiveness. The 72-hour cease-fire was supposed to be Kerry’s way of leaving the table with at least some of his chips. It collapsed in 90 minutes, but it would probably be more accurate to say, considering the planning of the attack, that it never existed in the first place.

All of which puts both the media and commentators in a tough spot. Hamas has never, at any time in this conflict, been genuinely interested in a serious peace. Which leaves war as the only means to return quiet, eventually, to Israel’s border. There is nothing terribly unusual about this: sometimes there is no choice but to defeat the enemy on the battlefield. But because the Gaza war is wrapped up in the politics of Palestinian statehood, the diplomatic track is never abandoned for any extended period of time.

For example, in a thoughtful, serious, but ultimately unconvincing post, Michael Koplow writes:

The fact is that there is no military solution to dealing with Hamas – as opposed to mitigating its military effectiveness – and the only way to neutralize Hamas is through political means. Hamas is in control of Gaza and not going anywhere. … The military component is necessary for an eventual political component, but without that second part, Israel will just be fighting in Gaza again in two or three years. For some people that might be fine, but every time it happens, Israel emerges damaged and one step closer to genuine isolation. The quicker that everyone realizes that a political solution is the only long-term one, the better everyone will be.

And what is that political solution? It’s not a negotiated truce with Hamas, which Israel has tried and keeps trying. He’s right though: there is a political solution, however remote: the two-state solution. That may or may not be on the horizon, but if there’s going to be a political, non-military solution to this conflict, that would be it. Benjamin Netanyahu embraced it, and was even willing to make concessions just to get Abbas to start negotiating. Abbas has ultimately spoiled the negotiations each time they’ve been tried during his presidency, but he’s at least participated in the process.

That process would necessitate two states living side by side, a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. Whatever people think of the intentions or good faith of Netanyahu and Abbas for a true, lasting two-state peace deal, they have at least been willing to partake in the process. Hamas rejects the premise. If Hamas decides not to reject the premise, then a political solution to Gaza would be truly on the table, if still an uphill battle.

It might be too much to ask for the media to realize this, as they’ve been so devoted to their own false narrative of Israel’s culpability that they might actually believe it. But the apparent kidnapping today has clearly begun to rattle an international community that had shown Hamas far too much patience so far. If the coverage begins to reflect that, it would put Hamas in danger of losing the one aspect of this war they have so far been winning.

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Peter Beinart Predicts the Triumph of Peter Beinartism

No one knows what the outcome of the Gaza crisis will be, but Peter Beinart is sure of this: it has proved him right. Beinart has been saying for some time that Israel and its defenders in the United States are out of step with a changing America. Millennials do not favor Israel as much as their parents do, and blacks and Hispanics do not favor Israel as much as whites do. Beinart also thinks that young people and minority groups are right to reject the pro-Israel arguments of America’s Jewish establishment and its allies. This establishment, Beinart explains in his Haaretz column (unfortunately gated) this Thursday, is best described as Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf described Jewish leaders more than 40 years ago: “they do not demand support, but rather submission.” This description was false then and is false now, but never mind. Beinart, who declared four years ago that Obama and his skepticism about Israel are “the new normal” believes that we are entering a new political world whose salient feature will be that more people agree with Beinart.

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No one knows what the outcome of the Gaza crisis will be, but Peter Beinart is sure of this: it has proved him right. Beinart has been saying for some time that Israel and its defenders in the United States are out of step with a changing America. Millennials do not favor Israel as much as their parents do, and blacks and Hispanics do not favor Israel as much as whites do. Beinart also thinks that young people and minority groups are right to reject the pro-Israel arguments of America’s Jewish establishment and its allies. This establishment, Beinart explains in his Haaretz column (unfortunately gated) this Thursday, is best described as Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf described Jewish leaders more than 40 years ago: “they do not demand support, but rather submission.” This description was false then and is false now, but never mind. Beinart, who declared four years ago that Obama and his skepticism about Israel are “the new normal” believes that we are entering a new political world whose salient feature will be that more people agree with Beinart.

This prediction looked bad last year when Gallup declared, “American’s Sympathies for Israel Match All-Time High.” Indeed, Americans leaned heavily toward the Israelis over the Palestinians, 64% vs. 12%.” “Americans’ partiality for Israel has consistently exceeded 60% since 2010,” the year Beinart penned the first article I linked. That number was only 55 percent for younger respondents, but Gallup called the variation “minor” and added that young people are “no more likely to favor the Palestinians. They are simply less anchored about whom they favor. In a February 2014 Gallup poll, 72 percent of U.S. respondents viewed Israel favorably, with younger Americans coming in at 64 percent.

Beinart did not recant, of course. Like all people who think they are on the right side of history, he treats contrary data as an indication that history is taking a while longer to sweep aside his opposition than one could wish. Last week, though, Gallup published what Matt Drudge would call a “shock poll.” Only 25 percent of younger U.S. respondents consider Israel’s actions Gaza justified. 51 percent consider them unjustified. To complete Beinart’s feast, the nonwhites whom he considers part of the coalition against today’s Zionist establishment also disapprove of Israel’s actions, 49 percent to 25 percent. The Pew Research Center offers a more complex picture but has majorities of blacks, Hispanics, and younger respondents blaming Israel more than Hamas for the present violence.

One can’t blame Beinart for displaying this rare sign that he could be right. But two data points hardly show thatevery time a conflict like this breaks out—especially if Israel continues to elect governments hostile to a viable Palestinian state—the American mood will incrementally shift. American opinion of Israel has dipped during conflicts before without producing such an incremental shift. In 2006, during the Lebanon war, a CBS/New York Times poll found that a plurality of Americans blamed Israel and Hezbollah equally for the violence. A majority thought that the United States should either stay silent or criticize Israel, not support it. Israel’s reputation recovered. In 1989, during the first intifada, another CBS/New York Times poll asked whether Israel had done enough to prove its interest in peace; 17 percent of respondents said yes, 70 percent no. Israel’s reputation recovered. In 2002, during the second intifada, Gallup found that just 34 percent of younger respondents favored Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians while 22 percent favored the Palestinians. Israel’s reputation recovered.

In a way, the Beinart of 2010 undercuts the Beinart of 2014. In 2010 Beinart thought that opinion would turn against Israel because Israel’s enemies were more appealing than before. Gone were the days when “Israel’s foes could be trusted to make it look good by comparison.” Israel’s leading critic was now Turkey, a democracy and a member of NATO.” The face of Palestine was Salam Fayad, a “proponent of nonviolence, a source of anti-corruption and a devotee of the Texas Longhorns.” Today, Turkey looks a little different, and Hamas is the face of Palestine, but Beinart’s argument hasn’t changed. He still thinks that the young people he describes as more liberal, peace-loving, and secular than their elders will in the long run cease to support Israel in its conflict with Hamas. 

Beinart neglects one of Gallup’s findings: the “more closely Americans are following the news about the Middle East situation, the more likely they are to think Israel’s actions are justified.” And as Pew notes, young Americans are as a group not following the conflict very closely; 23 percent of younger respondents say they are doing so. Far from being on an inevitable path to rejecting Israel until Israel adopts policies Beinart likes, the opinion of young people is not fixed and, in ordinary times is sympathetic toward Israel. This group can certainly be persuaded that Israel has a right to defend itself against the likes of Hamas.

As for Beinart, he need not worry about persuading anybody because he believes, as his headline writer aptly put it, that the age of Obamahas changed everything. Now who’s out of step?

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UNRWA’s Terrorist Connections

Yesterday three young Israeli soldiers, all in their early twenties, were killed by an explosion in one of Hamas’s many booby-trapped tunnels. This is just one example of the terrible price Israelis are paying as part of their efforts to keep their families safe from Islamist terrorism. But there is more to yesterday’s tragedy.

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Yesterday three young Israeli soldiers, all in their early twenties, were killed by an explosion in one of Hamas’s many booby-trapped tunnels. This is just one example of the terrible price Israelis are paying as part of their efforts to keep their families safe from Islamist terrorism. But there is more to yesterday’s tragedy.

The booby-trapped tunnel in question had its opening situated in a small health clinic run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. That fact alone should be shocking enough. But it comes just days after a cache of rockets was discovered at one of UNRWA’s schools. Worse still, this was the third such discovery since Israel’s operation Protective Edge began. The UN’s personnel in Gaza can no longer plead negligence; anyone considering the facts must inevitably conclude that UNRWA is actively collaborating with Hamas.

As Evelyn Gordon noted, in the case of the first stockpile of rockets, the United Nations staff simply handed the rockets over to the “Gaza authorities”—read: Hamas. In the case of the second stockpile we were told that the rockets “went missing.” They had vanished as mysteriously as they had appeared, and supposedly the UNRWA staff knew nothing about what had happened in either case. Of course the UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki-moon expressed his deepest concerns. But who knows where any of these rockets ended up? For all we know they could have already been fired at civilians in Israel by now.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of being mixed up in Palestinian extremism, that UNRWA projects are used for the purposes of incitement and radicalization against Israel. But it has been during the course of this latest explosion of violence that the extent of UNRWA’s complicity with terrorism has been exposed. And of course, it is quite possible that we have not yet seen the full extent of UNRWA’s entanglement with Hamas’s terror infrastructure. These four recent examples of UN sites being used for terrorist purposes could well prove to only be the tip of the iceberg.

The fact that a UN agency would so actively collaborate with terrorist organizations is appalling, but there is a still more sickening point to be considered here. Not only does it now seem clear that UNRWA has assisted militants who target Israeli civilians, but by permitting schools and medical sites to be used for any kind of military purpose, they have apparently joined with Hamas in its vile strategy of using human shields to protect its weapons and tunnels. Not only is this the most appalling breach of UNRWA’s primary duty to see to the welfare of civilians in Gaza, but it is also illegal as a war crime under international law.

Of course, UNRWA employs many of the local people in Gaza and it would not be at all difficult for those sympathetic to Hamas to infiltrate the lower echelons of the organization. But even if we grant this benefit of the doubt to those coming from outside to oversee UN work in Gaza, that does not absolve them of all culpability. Given that Palestinian militants are known to use ambulances as their preferred means of transportation and that Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital has previously been exposed as teeming with Hamas combatants, any genuinely well-meaning person coming to direct UNRWA’s work should have been all the more on their guard against this kind of thing.

In the end it just isn’t credible for UNRWA’s staff to plead ignorance. After all, the construction of a tunnel and the booby-trapping of the walls of a clinic with large amounts of explosives isn’t the kind of thing just discreetly undertaken overnight. We have already seen how Hamas has harassed journalists in Gaza and prevented them from reporting freely. It is possible that UNRWA’s senior figures, finding themselves caught between a dreadfully difficult task and the tyrannical rule of Hamas, reached the conclusion that they had no option but to make a pact with the devil, so to speak. Whatever the calculation, the human cost of these actions has already been horrendous.

Wherever responsibility lies, the fact is a UN agency has clearly had wide-scale involvement with both terrorism and the use of human shields. It stands to reason that these outrageous breaches should be prosecuted, but as we have seen before, the UN has awarded itself the kind of diplomatic immunity that has made legal action essentially impossible in the past. The only option now is for the world’s decent nations to embrace a policy of divestment against UNRWA, just as the Dutch parliament recently voted to halt funding to the Palestinian Authority. Some may argue that this will have harsh consequences for the local population. But if UNRWA is collaborating with the terrorists, then it is no friend of the people of Gaza.

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An “Economic Peace” for Gaza?

One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

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One of the themes we return to time and again on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the international community’s Oslo vision of the peace process requires the rejection of the only tactics and strategies that have proved successful. The momentum for a two-state solution outran the establishment of the conditions in the Palestinian territories that would foster and support what is otherwise a worthy goal.

At the top of this list is what’s referred to as “economic peace,” the attempts led by Benjamin Netanyahu to increase economic cooperation with and development in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians until a final-status agreement can be reached. As I’ve pointed out here before, economic peace actually has a track record of success, unlike most of the West’s meddling in the peace process.

Opponents of economic peace–including American officials current and former–have tended to argue that it’s a scam, a way for Netanyahu to forestall the two-state solution without publicly saying so. They’re wrong, of course: anything that replaces desperation with economic growth helps the Palestinian moderates and shows the value of cooperating with Israel. There’s also been another element to economic peace: demonstrate that the Hamas way is a dead end. And now Netanyahu is taking that argument to the next step, the New York Times reports:

After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

This is basically economic peace for Gaza. And its purpose is twofold. The first is to buy time: Israel is essentially negotiating with the international community at this point, repeatedly justifying its legitimate right of self-defense. The international community very quickly gets tired of seeing the images of war, and calls for an end to the fighting regardless of the military objectives accomplished or the near-certainty that the cease-fire would allow Hamas to rearm and restock for the next war.

The international community has not been persuaded by Israel’s clear military objectives, because they could not care less about the repercussions of leaving the task undone. Anyone who decries the imbalance of fatalities by pointing to how few Jews have been killed so far is not going to be moved by the possibility of terrorism against Israel. Even Human Rights Watch’s director Ken Roth got in on the action, unilaterally rewriting the laws of conflict to wave away the rights of Israeli soldiers on Israeli territory. So Netanyahu understands that while he’s quite obviously right–Israel cannot pretend those tunnels aren’t there–the world’s indifference to Israel’s fate means being right isn’t enough.

An economic peace for Gaza asks the world to envision a demilitarized Gaza’s potential for peace and economic success, and to have the patience to see that vision through. And it also has one other purpose: it gives Palestinians, and their international backers, a choice. Do they prefer Gaza to be controlled by a weaponized terrorist machinery, or do they prefer a much-improved standard of living and engagement with the outside world?

For this argument, Netanyahu at least has the wind at his back. After all, the current war in Gaza has demolished any and all arguments in favor of lifting the siege without demilitarization. Nothing illustrates this better than the terror tunnels. Hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and other supplies to build an underground city to which only terrorists have access while Palestinians above suffer: it’s irrefutable proof lifting import restrictions would only help Hamas at the expense of the Palestinian civilians.

And in doing so, it would lay the groundwork for the next war, in which the Palestinians would be used by Hamas as human shields and we’d be having this discussion all over again. When people decry the “cycle of violence,” they usually mean the Israelis and Palestinians are equally culpable. But though that particular definition of the phrase is ignorant and morally objectionable, they are onto something. There is a cycle of violence, and it goes like this: Hamas terrorists attack Israel, step up rocket attacks while Israel shows restraint, and eventually provoke an Israeli counteroffensive in self-defense.

Netanyahu is proposing to break the cycle. Demilitarize Gaza, he argues, and the restrictions on trade would lose their primary justification. Demilitarizing Gaza would force Israel’s hand with regard to the siege. He is, in effect, calling the bluff of those who claim to care more about Palestinian life than Israeli death. The international community’s response will tell us much about which of those two they see as the greater priority.

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IDF Fatalities Destroy Last Remaining Justification for Gaza Pullout

Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

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Has anyone noticed that the last remaining justification for Israel’s unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip has just disappeared? Proponents’ claims that the pullout would bring peace, security, and international support have long since been disproven; what it actually brought was 16,500 rockets and mortars fired at Israel from Gaza–including 13,800 before the current war began–and unprecedented international vitriol every time Israel tried to fight back (see the current anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe or the infamous Goldstone Report). Yet disengagement supporters still had one trump card to play: “At least our soldiers aren’t dying in Gaza anymore.” And to many Israelis, that gain was worth the terrible price.

But now, Israeli soldiers are once again dying in Gaza, at a rate that wipes out all the gains of the previous few years. Here are the figures, compiled from B’Tselem statistics:

Between the start of the second intifada, in September 2000, and the pullout in August 2005, 87 Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza. Over the next eight years, it’s not true that no soldiers died in Gaza, but military fatalities did drop significantly: Altogether, 33 soldiers were killed either in Gaza or in southern Israel by fire from Gaza.

Even that “achievement” is actually an indictment of the disengagement, because in the West Bank, which Israel didn’t quit, military fatalities fell far more sharply: from 136 between September 2000 and August 2005 to just 13 in the subsequent nine years. But since Operation Protective Edge began earlier this month, even this meager gain has disappeared: 53 soldiers have so far been killed in or by attacks from Gaza, and the number will likely continue climbing as the operation progresses. In other words, Gaza has now claimed 86 military fatalities from Israel since the pullout–almost identical to the 87 it claimed during the second intifada–even as military fatalities have fallen sharply in the West Bank.

In contrast, had the Israel Defense Forces remained in Gaza, military fatalities would almost certainly have registered a decline similar to that in the West Bank, because Hamas wouldn’t have been able do either of the two things that are now costing so many soldiers their lives: smuggle in vast quantities of sophisticated weaponry or build an extensive network of attack tunnels.

The bottom line, therefore, is that the last remaining “achievement” of the Gaza pullout has proved as chimerical as all its other vaunted achievements: The pullout hasn’t saved soldiers’ lives; it has almost certainly cost them.

To be clear, I never liked the argument that saving soldiers’ lives was worth the cost of incessant rocket fire on the south; soldiers are supposed to put their lives on the line to protect civilians, not the other way around. But I understand why it was so persuasive to many Israelis: Almost every Israeli has a father, husband, brother, or son in the army, while far fewer have relatives and friends in rocket-battered southern communities; thus many Israelis felt they personally benefited from the tradeoff, even if other Israelis were paying the price.

Now, however, even that illusion is gone: By quitting Gaza, not only has Israel gotten 16,500 rockets and mortars on its country, but it hasn’t saved the life of a single soldier. In fact, it has almost certainly lost more soldiers than it would have had it stayed.

Israel may have no choice but to reoccupy Gaza someday. But whether it does or not, one thing is crystal clear: It would be insane to repeat this experiment in the West Bank.

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Gaza Fighting Proves J Street’s Irrelevance

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

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Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

As the Forward noted today, J Street has tried not to repeat the mistake it made in 2008 when the group publicly opposed Israel’s efforts to suppress Hamas rocket fire during Operation Cast Lead. The position was very much in character with J Street’s ideology that sees Israel as the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. But the group that at that time harbored an ambition to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community learned its lesson after it was condemned for this outrageous decision by a wide spectrum of American Jews, including many liberal leaders. During subsequent crises J Street has avoided open condemnations of Israeli actions while still failing to play the sort of role in mobilizing support for an embattled Jewish state that other more mainstream groups take as a matter of course.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week, J Street refused to take part in a communal pro-Israel rally organized by the Boston Jewish federation. Nor did J Street chose to co-sponsor a similar rally in New York. He said these actions sounded the “death knell for J Street” as a group that sought to be considered as part of the pro-Israel community. But the irony is that sort of moral cowardice isn’t enough for many, if not most J Street supporters who are uncomfortable with the way the group has sought to neither condemn nor fully support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

As the Forward reported, even as J Street avoided being seen at pro-Israel rallies, their members are playing a prominent role in organizing protests against the Jewish state. Many have joined #ifnotnow, a new ad hoc group dedicated to opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Even worse for J Street is the trend that was also discussed in a separate Forward article which reported that many of the group’s adherents are leaving it to join the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. That group, which serves as the Jewish front for BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns against Israel is profiting from the situation since many on the left prefer its unadulterated venom directed against the Jewish state to J Street’s more equivocal positions.

While no one should be shedding any tears about J Street’s dilemma, their troubles do illustrate a key point about the ongoing battle to defend Israel.

J Street came into existence in part as a cheering section for Obama administration pressure against Israel. But it was also a manifestation of the old left-right debate in Israel and the United States between those who supported “land for peace” as the solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and those who opposed the idea. J Street’s belief that Israel needed to take risks for peace might have made sense in 1992 before Oslo, the second intifada, and three Palestinian refusals of Israeli offers of statehood. But after 20 years during which Israel has traded land not for peace but for terror, J Street’s positions aren’t so much wrong as they are irrelevant. That’s why Israel’s political left that once dominated the country’s politics is now marginalized and rejected by an electorate that backs the Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza by a 9-1 margin.

The real battle for Israel now isn’t the old one about where its borders should be placed or whether settlements are good or bad but whether there should be a Jewish state or if it has a right to defend itself. In that struggle, J Street’s tepid Zionism doesn’t resonate with the mainstream community and is of little interest to leftists who prefer open-Israel bashers like JVP.

J Street once thought it would become the main address for Jewish activism. But recent events have shown that J Street’s moment has passed. Those who wish to support Israel in its life and death struggle against Hamas terrorists who seek its destruction will always gravitate toward groups that don’t pull their punches when it comes to defending the Jewish state. At the same time, J Street’s base on the left is following celebrity Israel-bashers and abandoning it to join with those who are playing into Hamas’s hands by claiming it is wrong to shoot back at the terrorists. In this environment, organizations that won’t take a clear side in this fight will soon find themselves historical relics of a bygone era that will never return.

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Israel, Bipartisanship, and the Blame Game

How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

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How should pro-Israel Democrats respond to the fact that support for Israel in their party is dropping? That question has renewed relevance with the latest polls showing increasing disapproval of Israel within the Democratic Party. Last week’s Gallup poll showed that Democrats do not think Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified by a 47-31 percent tally. And this week’s Pew poll shows that, astoundingly, Democrats are about evenly divided over whether Israel or Hamas is most responsible for the current violence. (Both polls show Republicans broadly support Israel.)

It’s a trend that has been on the march for some time. For a while liberals denied there was rising disenchantment with Israel on the left, but that became impossible after the Democrats’ 2012 presidential nominating convention, when the party’s delegates loudly booed at and resoundingly voted down adding pro-Israel language to the Democratic Party platform (the language was added over their objections, though it was quite a scene). At that point, a new strategy was needed, since everyone was well aware the Democrats’ traditional support for Israel was in danger of collapsing.

The new strategy has two main elements. The first is to rule out debate on the issue. When you hear Democrats accusing Republicans of using Israel as a political football, you can be sure the left has said or done something objectionable. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf tried that tack again today. In trying to deflect criticism of her boss, Harf said, according to the AP’s Matt Lee, that “Many members of Congress, I think, like to use Israel as a political issue to try to divide the country.” Translation: when the Democrats are in the process of damaging Israel, supporting Israel becomes an unacceptable partisan play.

The other side to this strategy is to then use this supposed partisanship (defending Israel when the Democrats refuse to do so) to justify the Democrats’ turn away from Israel. The latest example of this comes from Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. He concedes the point that having an American native like Ron Dermer as Israel’s ambassador can help communicate Israel’s positions clearly and navigate American politics. But Marshall is troubled by this as well because Dermer has a Republican background:

It should go without saying that the Israel-US alliance becomes more brittle as it becomes more clearly identified with a single US political party. And perhaps more than that, as it becomes more clearly identified with the ties between Netanyahu and US Republicans.

Marshall says, correctly, that it hurts the alliance to have support for Israel as an identifiable characteristic of only one political party. What he doesn’t say is that his party is the one increasingly setting aside that alliance. He hints, instead, that by associating with Republicans Netanyahu is the one who made that choice.

In essence, this line of thinking holds that the Israeli government can only get so much support from Republicans before Democrats will walk away. Marshall is not the first to discuss the situation in such terms. On the eve of the 2012 presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in making his case for Obama, wrote the following:

Republicans have had a good deal of success turning Israel into a partisan issue, mainly by misrepresenting President Obama’s record (but also helped by certain Obama missteps), and if they continue to press their case, many Democrats will find supporting Israel distasteful — they will lump supporters of Israel in the same category they reserve for climate-change-denying anti-choice Obamacare haters. This would be very dangerous for Israel.

Yes, it would be very dangerous for Israel. But it’s also a profound condemnation, even if unintentional, of Goldberg’s fellow liberals. If they will find voluble support for Israel, which in this case includes criticism of Barack Obama for what they perceive to be his weakening of the alliance, to be enough to convince them not to support Israel, then they are not supporters of Israel: they are leftist partisans.

If they really do support Israel, they would be able to continue supporting Israel even though conservatives get as (or more) animated about their support for Israel as on other important conservative issues. That should go without saying, but it apparently does not. A bipartisan consensus in support of Israel is what is best for both the United States and Israel, which is why that consensus has endured for decades now. And for it to be bipartisan, Democrats will have to get over their distaste for sharing a coalition with Republicans.

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How Deep the Dome, Ms. Grimes?

The news out of the Middle East is pretty grim these days. But it is possible to find some humor even in the midst of war. For that we can thank Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Iron Dome missile defense system protected Israel against terrorist tunnels.

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The news out of the Middle East is pretty grim these days. But it is possible to find some humor even in the midst of war. For that we can thank Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the Iron Dome missile defense system protected Israel against terrorist tunnels.

“Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself,” Grimes said. “But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza, is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.

Grimes’s challenge of Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bid for reelection won’t be decided by either candidate’s stands on the Middle East. But Grimes, who has raised a large proportion of her campaign funds from out of state from large Democratic donors, is seeking to portray herself as being a supporter of the bipartisan consensus that supports the State of Israel. Saying you’re a backer of the Jewish state and a supporter of peace doesn’t require much background knowledge or grasp of the nuances of the conflict. But politicians with a tenuous grasp of foreign and defense policy can sometimes get themselves in trouble trying to pretend to be the equal of veteran policymakers like McConnell.

If Grimes is elected this November she probably wouldn’t be the only member of Congress who doesn’t know the difference between missile defense and tunnels, but being caught in a gaffe of this magnitude is embarrassing and leaves her open to satire. The Washington Free Beacon provided a graphic explaining Grimes’s version of Iron Dome that displayed how rockets fired above ground then enter the tunnel where they are then stopped by laser canons.

Of course, Grimes isn’t the first Democrat who didn’t understand the concept of missile defense. A whole generation of liberals that now extol Iron Dome mocked Ronald Reagan for his support of “Star Wars” technology that led to the system that has saved so many Israeli lives in the last month.

But the real lesson here is that rookie politicians make rookie mistakes especially when they don’t know what they’re talking about. If Grimes wants to raise money from pro-Israel donors by discussing the conflict in Gaza, she should take a few minutes to read up on the topic and learn the difference between up and down.

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The Iran Talks’ Gaza Connection

Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

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Lost amid the understandable focus on the fighting in Gaza was a major Middle East news story. On July 18, the U.S. and its Western allies agreed to extend the Iran nuclear talks for four months. But rather than the fighting between Hamas and Israel allowing the negotiations to continue under the radar, the events unfolding in Gaza ought to make it harder rather than easier for the Obama administration to evade its obligation to deal with this threat.

The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee groused in public yesterday about the way the Iran talks are proceeding with little public accountability. Both Democratic Chair Senator Robert Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker expressed dismay about the way the supposedly finite period for negotiations with Iran had effortlessly transitioned into injury time with every possibility that the four-month period could be extended again in November. There was no appetite on the committee for a rerun of the bruising and losing fight Menendez waged against the administration on behalf of tougher sanctions on Iran in order to strengthen the West’s hand in the talks. Yet the frustration about the P5+1 process is clear.

While their comments didn’t get much attention, Menendez and Corker are right to be worried. More to the point, the Gaza crisis ought to be causing more concern about the Iran talks rather than allowing Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating team a free pass to continue to work toward an agreement that will both legalize Tehran’s nuclear program and fail to curb its support for terrorism.

It is important to understand that without Iran much of what is happening in Gaza wouldn’t be possible. Iran supplied Hamas with advanced rockets and money for years enabling it to create the infrastructure of terror that has plunged the region into conflict. Iran and Hamas had a very public spat in recent years when the Islamist terrorists chose to oppose Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war. But the breach between the two may be over. Yesterday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he supported replenishing Iran’s arsenal. If, due to international pressure and the desire of the Obama administration to halt the current fighting, Hamas is left standing and in control of Gaza, the odds are good that Khamenei will make good on his pledge.

Economic sanctions on Iran made it harder for the regime to divert money to Hamas as well as to Islamic Jihad, which has stayed in Tehran’s good graces these past few years. But if Kerry gets the deal he is looking for, the sanctions that were weakened in the interim deal concluded last November would be eviscerated. At that point, Hamas may be able to count on refinancing and resupply from Iran as well as from their ally Qatar.

What has this to do with the nuclear talks?

The assumption on the part of most foreign-policy observers is that these are two separate issues. But that belief is a mistake. Iran’s status as the leading state sponsor of international terrorism through its support of Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and perhaps Hamas again makes it imperative that the P5+1 process not limit itself to talks that ignore the threat that Tehran’s auxiliaries pose to the West.

Kerry signed a weak deal with Iran last fall because, as he publicly admitted, the secretary decided sticking to the West’s demands for Iran to dismantle its nuclear program was not possible. Instead, he appeased Iran and granted tacit recognition to their “right” to enrich uranium in exchange for concessions that do little to retard the Islamist regime’s nuclear ambitions. The willingness of the West to go into overtime with an Iranian negotiating partner that has clearly signaled their unwillingness to agree to measures that would make it impossible for them to build a weapon may herald another retreat by Kerry. If so, that will bring us closer to the day when Iran will not only be able to threaten the West with a nuke after a brief “breakout” period but also hasten the moment when it can extend a nuclear umbrella over its allies in Lebanon and Gaza.

While the prospect of such a dismal outcome to these negotiations raises the possibility that Israel will decide at some point to act on their own to stop the Iranians, it also raises the stakes in Gaza. The U.S. decision not to keep its word about limiting negotiations with Iran makes it even more imperative for Israel not to allow Hamas to escape the current fighting with its arsenal and control of the strip intact. Just as Iran’s nuclear dream poses an existential threat to Israel, the American willingness to kick the can down the road on the nuclear issue makes it more vital that Israel finishes off Hamas now before an end to the blockade and Western appeasement of Tehran changes the strategic equation in Gaza and the Middle East.

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The Media’s Political Tendentiousness Cloaked in Moral Self-Righteousness

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about a subject that has long interested me. It has to do with which issues we decide to get morally outraged about, and which we ignore. In this case, why the intense focus on the Gaza crisis but so little on what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll is so much higher (more than 170,000) and the scale of suffering so much worse? Mr. Goldberg, in sorting through this matter, writes this:

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The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote about a subject that has long interested me. It has to do with which issues we decide to get morally outraged about, and which we ignore. In this case, why the intense focus on the Gaza crisis but so little on what’s happening in Syria, where the death toll is so much higher (more than 170,000) and the scale of suffering so much worse? Mr. Goldberg, in sorting through this matter, writes this:

The American media takes at least some of its cues on Syria from the intensity of coverage in the Arab world. The Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, was one of the few people to notice the weekend death toll in Syria. She tweeted, in reference to anti-Israel protests in Pakistan, “Syria is essentially Gaza x320 death toll, x30 number of refugees, but no protest in Pakistan…”

I asked her why she thought this is so. Her answer: “Only reason I can think of is Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs.”

But why on earth should this be the case? Why is it the case that Arabs killing Arabs on a mass scale is virtually ignored while they focus so much attention on the far fewer Palestinians being killed in the conflict with Israel? Moreover, why does the Western and American media set up their coverage in a way that is meant to indict Israel, even though it’s Hamas which is using innocent Palestinians as human shields in the hopes of increasing the death toll?

The question, I think, virtually answers itself. It is rooted in part in a deep animus toward Israel. Many journalists seem to believe they are moral crusaders in applying heat to Israel. They are, at best, morally confused and, at worst, morally dissolute. It’s quite an indictment of the Western journalists that so many of them direct their outrage at Israel, which is conducting this war with an astonishing degree of humanitarian care, while they are so relatively untroubled by the war crimes and malevolence of Hamas.

We might as well name things for what they are. What’s really going on here isn’t so much compassion for the plight of innocent Arabs; it is using the death of innocent Arabs to advance a political and ideological agenda. If the death of innocent Arabs is a cause that so deeply touches their hearts, Western and American journalists would be paying far more attention to what is happening in Syria (and not just Syria) than what is happening in Gaza. They’re not. Which tells you all you need to know.

Political tendentiousness is bad enough; when it’s cloaked in moral self-righteousness, it’s even harder to take.

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If Hamas Survives, Forget About Peace … Or Quiet

As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

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As the fighting in Gaza continues with no lasting cease-fire in sight, some of the discussion about this war has shifted to whether Israel can or should seek to depose its Hamas enemies altogether. This is a debate that is long overdue.

In Haaretz, Benny Morris suggests that while he doesn’t expect it to happen, sooner or later Israel must take on the unpleasant task of defeating Hamas once and for all. Our Max Boot disagrees since he believes the casualties that would inevitably result from such a long and bloody struggle would be prohibitive for Israel. More than that, he argues that in the absence of a viable alternative to Hamas to run Gaza, Israel really has no choice but to let the Islamists remain in place when the current round of fighting ends at some point.

While I think Max’s two objections to Morris’s suggestion provide a formidable rationale for a decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to call a halt to his country’s counter-offensive, I have to come down on the other side of this argument. A long battle to take down Hamas would be costly. Nor can Israel be certain of what would follow. But a failure to end the rocket and terror tunnel threat from Gaza now would be an even costlier mistake that Netanyahu and his successors would regret.

Prior to the current outbreak and even after the rocket fire from Gaza resumed this month I was among those who thought Israel would never consider retaking control of the strip. But like most wars, this one has changed the way both sides looked at the conflict. Israelis now see that the tunnel city underneath Gaza is no minor nuisance but a strategic threat that will require a major commitment of forces to contain if Hamas is allowed to reconstruct even a portion of its terror infrastructure. Though the Iron Dome missile defense system has prevented the thousands of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza from causing many casualties, it is a misnomer to assume that it provides a complete answer to that danger. Whether or not a single rocket ever kills an Israeli, Hamas has forced two-thirds of the population of Israel to spend part of their lives in bomb shelters. With thousands of rockets still left in their possession, Israel cannot contemplate a cease-fire that would allow Hamas to resume this ordeal at any future time of their choosing. And anything short of their elimination will ensure that this is exactly what they will do.

Moreover, even much of the Israeli left now understands that there can be no compromise with Hamas. Any thoughts that the unity pact signed this spring with Fatah would moderate their positions are now seen as absurd. As Morris rightly points out, this round of fighting is not just the latest tit-for-tat in a cycle of violence but rather the natural result from an ideological commitment to shedding the blood of Israelis in a never-ending war to destroy the Jewish state. When Hamas says it is the “resistance” to the “occupation,” its spokesmen are not referring to the West Bank but pre-1967 Israel. Though both Netanyahu and the people of Israel would have preferred to offer Hamas “quiet for quiet” and to end the fighting weeks ago, the tunnels and the weeks of rocket fire leave them no alternative but to seek a conclusion to this problem. While pundits are fond of saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political rather than a military solution, so long as Hamas is in power that is simply not true.

If Israel is to have quiet and have any hope of peace in the long run, Hamas has to go. While they rule Gaza, not only is a two-state solution off the table; any assurance that normal life in the territories or much of Israel can be counted on is also not possible.

Max is right that the cost of taking out Hamas will be terrible. But the assumption that Israelis are not willing to pay that price may no longer be valid. Every poll of opinion in Israel now shows that up to 90 percent of the people support the war and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict. More importantly, the vast majority also believe it would be a mistake to stop the fighting before the country’s security is assured.

Few would have believed that such results were possible even in a time of peace. But for Israelis to take this position after weeks of fighting during the course of which they have lost dozens of soldiers—each death being a traumatizing event for the small country where the majority of young people serve in the army—shows that there has been a major shift in opinion on the subject. Israelis from across the political spectrum are no longer willing to be held hostage to the caprices of a band of Islamist murderers bent on destroying them. While no one can be sure how long this consensus will hold, Netanyahu clearly has the support he needs to carry on with this vital mission for the foreseeable future.

Max’s suggestion that the example of America’s lack of a post-Saddam scenario in Iraq should give Israel pause is also very much to the point. There is no question that Netanyahu will have to answer objections that center on the question of what will follow Hamas in Gaza. But the possible answers to this question are not such a mystery even if none of them are attractive.

The most logical answer is the Palestinian Authority. After all, the PA ran Gaza along with most of the West Bank prior to Hamas’s bloody 2007 coup. The return of the PA would end the blockade that Israel, Egypt, and most of the international community placed on the strip after the terror group took power there. Such an outcome would also make it possible for talks about a two-state solution to resume. It is precisely the justified fear on the part of most Israelis that the West Bank would become another Hamasistan that makes territorial withdrawal there unlikely even in the unlikely event that Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Would the PA be able to fend off an Islamist insurgency in Gaza? It might be difficult, but I think the answer is yes and the West Bank provides a precedent. Hamas could never have ousted Abbas in Gaza had not Ariel Sharon removed Israel’s army and all the settlements in 2005. Joint Israel-PA security cooperation has kept a lid, albeit a shaky one, on the West Bank as it did in Gaza prior to 2005. There is no reason to believe they would fail in Gaza now.

Benny Morris is merely echoing a developing Israeli consensus about Gaza when he says there is no alternative to finishing off Hamas. Just as there is no reason for the U.S. to compromise with al-Qaeda, neither is there any logical or ethical rationale for a continuation of Hamas’s rule in Gaza. Putting off a conclusion to this war will only lead to more suffering for both Israelis and Palestinians.

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The Democrats’ Qatar Delusion

The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

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The reason John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal was so soundly rejected is because it did two very dangerous things. The first was that it would have tied Israel’s hands with regard to destroying the Hamas tunnels, the existence of which has had a deep psychological effect on Israeli society. (A good example comes from Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper, via Yaacov Lozowick, here: a front-page photo of a tunnel exit opening up into a child’s bedroom, with the tagline “Monsters do Exist.”) But the second is important as well.

Kerry had signaled that he was prepared to replace traditional interlocutors in the region–chiefly Egypt, though Cairo tends to speak for others who prefer to stay behind the scenes–with Qatar. This would be a monumental strategic error, one of the worst (of the many) the Obama administration has committed so far. The strange aspect of this indefensible mistake is that Qatar–a prime supporter of terrorists and of the region’s bad actors who subvert American interests at every chance–has nobody fooled except the Obama administration and its Democratic congressional allies.

Making the rounds the last couple of days has been this clip of Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said the following about Qatar and Hamas:

“[T]his has to be something where we try to have the two-state solution, that we have to support…(Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud) Abbas and his role as a leader there. We have to support Iron Dome to protect the Israelis from the missiles. We have to support the Palestinians and what they need. And we have to confer with the Qataris, who have told me over and over again that Hamas is a humanitarian organization, maybe they could use their influence to–”

Crowley interrupted her to ask: “The U.S. thinks they’re a terrorist organization though, correct? Do you?”

Pelosi responded: “Mmm hmm.”

Here’s a clue for Pelosi: when you start a thought with “the Qataris … have told me” what follows is likely to make you look extraordinarily silly. Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Of course it is. Pelosi doesn’t seem too sure about that, so she’s asked the Qataris and they vouch for them as a humanitarian organization. Now, it’s true that Pelosi isn’t setting American foreign policy, something for which the universe can be eternally grateful. But the fact that Pelosi even went on CNN to repeat what Hamas’s patrons told her about Hamas’s humanitarianism shows the extent to which the current Democratic leadership–and virtually no one else–has been fooled by Qatar.

It’s tempting to dismiss Pelosi because, well, she’s Nancy Pelosi. But here’s a terrifying thought: if Nancy Pelosi were running America’s Mideast policy, it would look a lot like the pyromania-in-a-dry-forest we’re seeing now from Kerry. And at the center of that diplomatic arson is Qatar.

It’s unclear why the Obama administration and its congressional Democratic allies have fallen for Qatar’s act when no one else has. Criticism of Qatar over its promotion of extremism in the region is not exactly limited to the hawkish right. Here is Foreign Policy chief David Rothkopf this morning: “Expecting Qatar to help solve Gaza crisis is like expecting a tobacco company to help you stop smoking.” He was reacting to a CNN op-ed by Sultan al-Qassemi, who wrote:

The truth is that Qatar’s overall strategy with the Muslim Brotherhood has failed miserably: It resulted in the alienation of the Brotherhood in Egypt — so much so that the group was ousted from power in a popularly-backed military coup, and meant that many Egyptians were indifferent to the bloody massacre of the group’s members that followed.

Qatari support for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates elsewhere in the region, such as Libya, Jordan, and Tunisia, has also backfired resulting in them being sidelined from power. All of this adds to quite an unfortunate year for the Gulf emirate.

Qatar’s continuous financial and media support for the Muslim Brotherhood through the once-popular Al Jazeera Arabic, the 24-hour, Egypt-centric Mubasher Misr, which largely reflects a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, and a slew of new Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated news websites based in London, have further poisoned relations between Qatar and Egypt.

Israeli leaders can understand the American president’s desire for an immediate cessation of hostilities, even if they don’t agree with it. But the idea that Washington has decided to run Western policy through Qatar has left anyone who understands the Middle East completely puzzled. It would mark a significant shift and would signal to those in the region who rely on America that they’ll need to start, if they haven’t already, making backup plans.

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Gaza’s Future

The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

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The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

He notes that before long Israel will end its military operations in the Gaza Strip and Hamas will start rebuilding. “In a few months, the tunnels leading into Israeli territory will resume operation and the missile stockpiles will be replenished, perhaps with new and improved homemade models (or even smuggled ones). Therefore, the next war will surely come.”

Morris is surely right. Hamas remains dedicated to Israel’s destruction and it remains intent on keeping its grip on Gaza. What can or should Israel do about it?

He suggests, correctly I think, that truly defeating Hamas would “require months of combat, during which the Strip will be cleansed, neighborhood by neighborhood, of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and armaments.” He concedes that such operations “will exact a serious price in lives from both Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian civilians,” but he argues that Israel has no other choice and he bemoans the unwillingness of Israeli society to pay the toll in blood required to win this war. He writes:

In recent decades, Israeli governments and the Israeli people have turned into carbon copies of the West: All they want is peace and to hide their heads in the sand; there’s no willingness to sacrifice soldiers (and no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians), even if it’s clear that the price today – in terms of both our soldiers and their civilians – would be lower than it will be in the future.

There is something to this analysis–a lot, actually–but it is incomplete. It is true that Israel, like the U.S., is casualty-conscious (reluctant not only to lose its own citizens but even to inflict heavy losses on the other side) and that our enemies exploit this mindset. But even if Israel were willing to engage in the hard and bloody task of defeating Hamas, the inevitable question comes: What next? What entity will next rule the Gaza Strip? To this Morris does not have a convincing answer: “After gaining control of Gaza, it must be hoped that some moderate Arab power, perhaps the Palestinian Authority, will take over the reins of government.”

“Some moderate Arab power”? It’s hard to imagine any power wanting to occupy Gaza. Certainly Egypt, which once ruled it, wants no part of it today. The only realistic alternative is the Palestinian Authority, but it has already lost a power struggle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and there is little reason to think it would be strong enough to suppress Hamas even after an Israeli invasion.

The “post Hamas, what?” question is one that I think is a major deterrent to the kind of action that Morris advocates, probably an even bigger deterrent than fear of casualties in clearing operations. Actually, support for the war in Israel has soared even as IDF casualties have mounted. But Israelis remember how easily they got into Lebanon in 1982 and how hard it was to get out. They don’t want to repeat that experience. The U.S. invasion of Iraq provides a similar cautionary lesson; the U.S. had no firm idea who would replace Saddam Hussein and wound up getting sucked into a costly war.

Unless someone in Israel can figure out what comes after Hamas, the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place after the current round of fighting.

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Is There Something Worse Than Hamas?

Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

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Critics of the Pentagon, and indeed of all defense establishments, have often quipped that the term “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. As a general rule, that sort of comment is as inaccurate as it is unfair. But Lt. General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, bolstered this assumption by declaring that the destruction of the Hamas terrorist government of Gaza would lead to something worse.

General Flynn warned that if Israel is seeking to either decapitate Hamas, remove it from power, or to eliminate it altogether, that might not be a smart move. He asserted that Hamas would be replaced by something far more radical and, by definition, more dangerous to both Israel and the rest of the world.

As Reuters reports:

“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse,” Flynn said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there … something like ISIS,” he added, referring to the Islamic State, which last month declared an “Islamic caliphate” in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Is he right?

It is a reliable rule of existence on this planet than whenever you think things can’t get worse, they often do become even more unbearable. But that piece of general life wisdom aside, the argument that behind Hamas lurks more dangerous groups is not only unsubstantiated; to believe it you have to ignore everything we already know about Hamas.

As far as the possibility of more radical Islamists replacing Hamas, there is no question that the prospect of al-Qaeda-related groups becoming the address for Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s existence would be scary for the West. Perhaps this fear is based on an assumption that they would not be content with slaughtering Jews as Hamas and Islamic Jihad attempt to do but would instead concentrate on killing Americans. But does anyone in the U.S.—even the spooks in the Pentagon—really believe that al-Qaeda types in the Middle East are not already doing their best to attack America right now?

Any group that replaced Hamas as the Islamist rival to the more secular Fatah would be competing in the same Palestinian political universe that grants credibility to groups that attack Israel, not Western targets. Whatever followed Hamas would not be a freelance Islamist terror group such as those in the Arabian Peninsula or North Africa but a Palestinian entity that would seek to escalate the fight against the Jewish presence in the country, not a scattered campaign against the West elsewhere.

But leaving that issue aside, the problem with Flynn’s thinking is that the more one looks at Hamas’s behavior, the harder it is to argue that there could be something that would be qualitatively worse in terms of conflict escalation or human rights.

For example, it was reported today that Hamas executed 20 Palestinians who had the temerity to launch an anti-war protest in Gaza. The protesters were branded as traitors. Would a successor group seek to repress dissent or govern Gaza with more brutality than Hamas?

Hamas has funneled much of the humanitarian aid sent to Gaza into its “military” infrastructure, constructing an underground city of shelters and tunnels for its armaments and fighters and to facilitate terror attacks on Israelis. As Tablet magazine reported, 160 Palestinian children employed as laborers were killed during the course of the building of these tunnels. Would an ISIS-clone do anything worse than that?

Hamas’s purpose, as detailed in their charter and regularly reaffirmed by both their military and political leaders, is to destroy Israel and to ethnically cleanse it of its Jewish population. Would ISIS or al-Qaeda favor a more gentle form of genocide?

To study Hamas’s actual behavior and its beliefs undermines any notion that its elimination would result in the radicalization of Palestinians and their supporters. Hamas is already so radical in terms of its intransigence against peace and Israel’s existence that any more extreme shift under a successor would be purely cosmetic and result in no tangible increase in the threat level to the region.

More to the point, anyone who truly desires a two-state solution to the conflict must understand that the only hope for that outcome—and, admittedly, it is a slim hope—is for Hamas to be eliminated, giving a chance for the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority to govern Gaza and to make peace with Israel.

Given the difficulty and the cost of a campaign that would completely eliminate Hamas or to replace it as the government of Gaza it may well be that Flynn’s nightmare will never be realized. Hamas thinks it is in no danger and statements such as that of the general and the willingness of the U.S. to embrace cease-fire proposals that would grant it an undeserved victory only strengthen their conviction that they can continue to fight with impunity. But using this argument to bolster Hamas’s hold on power is a terrible error. The only way to end the conflict is to demilitarize Gaza. The only way to do that is to eliminate Hamas.

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Hamas Knows It Is Losing

Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

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Is Hamas on the ropes? The terrorist group certainly seems to think so. That’s one takeaway from the tragic news that Hamas terrorists infiltrated the Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz, fired an anti-tank missile, and killed five Israeli soldiers. According to Haaretz, it marks the fourth such infiltration by Hamas fighters via cross-border tunnels. Such events–especially the deadly assault at Nahal Oz–might appear to fall into one of two categories: a successful attack on Israel (Nahal Oz) or a disquieting signal of Hamas’s plans to invade undetected (the attacks that failed). But I think there’s a third explanation.

The network of tunnels Hamas has built underground has been at the center of the conflict’s escalation. The discovery of the planned Rosh Hashanah mass terror attack utilizing those tunnels has only reinforced to Israel’s leaders that the tunnels must be destroyed or rendered inoperative. Israel has also shown its determination to get a full picture of those tunnels, and has resisted efforts to let Hamas cover its tracks. The rockets are certainly a threat against which Israel has the right to self-defense. But because of Iron Dome, the rockets pale in comparison to the tunnels in terms of sophistication and the danger to Israel’s civilians. So why would Hamas fighters use the tunnels now?

According to what we’ve learned about the tunnels during Operation Protective Edge, they were a grand accomplishment–a city under the sand in the 21st century. They were also to be used for the kind of concerted terror attack that would, to Hamas and its backers, make them worth the investment. The Rosh Hashanah attack certainly would appear to fit that bill. It’s unclear whether the goal would be to take entire kibbutzim hostage, to kill everyone in range and all at once, or to kidnap large numbers of Israelis from all over the country and take them back to Gaza. It could, I suppose, have been a combination of the three.

But there are no indications the tunnels were constructed for desperate jihadis to lure Israel into playing whack-a-mole. It certainly doesn’t make much sense to do so now, anyway. Israel and Hamas are currently at war. Israel is taking this fight very seriously–too seriously for the chuckleheads in Turtle Bay and Foggy Bottom, in fact. The nation is at high alert, the reserves have been called up, and the IDF knows the tunnels are there and are intended to be used for an attack on Israeli territory.

This is, then, easily the worst time for Hamas to start using those tunnels in relatively ad-hoc attacks. Doing so now puts them at a distinct disadvantage, with the IDF ready for them to pop out of the ground. It risks exposing the existence of tunnels the IDF may not have found, and thus expanding the mental map the IDF is piecing together of this underground city.

It reduces if not completely erases the element of surprise, and it ensures the IDF is staffed up enough to respond immediately and forcefully to any breach of its territory. One isolated attack may or may not be considered a casus belli–Hamas is surely aware of just how hesitant Benjamin Netanyahu was in committing ground troops at all–but an attack during a war guarantees a response.

There is always some risk in trying to explain the behavior of a barbaric terrorist organization with logic and reasoning. So maybe Hamas looks like it doesn’t know what it’s doing because it doesn’t know what it’s doing. But even if that’s the case, Hamas’s recent behavior is a tell. Hamas believes Israel means it this time. The Israeli leadership is united, as is much of the Israeli public, and they have resisted pressure from the U.S. to let Hamas off the ropes. Hamas, then, is in “use it or lose it” mode with the tunnels. They expect Israel to leave them no avenue of cross-border attack, so they’re utilizing them while they can.

The U.S. even stepped aside this week to let the UN take a swing at Israel. According to Foreign Policy’s Column Lynch, one expert, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Danin, even “suggested that the United States may be seeking to leverage its position by playing on Israeli fears of being left to fend for itself at a United Nations that appears to be universally opposed to the current offensive.”

Israel is at war, and the American president wants to send a message by playing on Israel’s fears of being abandoned. How nice. And yet, Israel still insists on protecting its civilians instead of begging forgiveness for insulting the magnificent stupidity of the American secretary of state’s attempt to force Israel to appease the terrorists currently popping out of the ground in Israeli territory firing anti-tank shells.

Hamas was expecting the Jews to tie themselves to the tracks and save them the work. When that failed, they expected John Kerry to take care of it, preferably with sturdy Qatari rope. But they are now realizing that Israel intends to win, and that it is well on its way to doing so. And they are acting with evident recklessness, because it might be all they have left.

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