Commentary Magazine


Topic: Qassam rockets

UNRWA Slams Israeli Self-Defense

Much has been written about the impotence and uselessness of the United Nations and its various Middle East missions. Peacekeeping operations like those in Lebanon fail to keep any sort of peace, while refugee organizations like those in the the Gaza Strip fail to resolve refugee crises. But one thing has to be admitted: when they step up to help Israel’s enemies in times of war, they do so enthusiastically and even comprehensively. Because modern wars are fought both in the media and on the battlefield, UNRWA officials make a point of assisting Hamas in both arenas.

The documentation on how UNRWA tried to manipulate the media during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead is extensive – a 43-page pdf study can be found here – but probably the most surreal example came when UNRWA Commissioner Karen Abu Zayd hastily called a video press conference to blame Israel for the war. Claiming that “it was obvious that Hamas was trying” to observe a truce and that “only one rocket… went out on Friday [before the operation],” she accused Israel of violating an “informal 48-hour lull.” The degree to which Abu Zayd just flat fabricated that story can’t be overemphasized. Suffice to say that not only had Hamas been firing rockets at Israel for months, but on that very Friday morning they had fired 25 shells. That’s a lot more than the 1 Abu Zayd counted, but global media outlets duly parroted her propaganda anyway.

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Much has been written about the impotence and uselessness of the United Nations and its various Middle East missions. Peacekeeping operations like those in Lebanon fail to keep any sort of peace, while refugee organizations like those in the the Gaza Strip fail to resolve refugee crises. But one thing has to be admitted: when they step up to help Israel’s enemies in times of war, they do so enthusiastically and even comprehensively. Because modern wars are fought both in the media and on the battlefield, UNRWA officials make a point of assisting Hamas in both arenas.

The documentation on how UNRWA tried to manipulate the media during Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead is extensive – a 43-page pdf study can be found here – but probably the most surreal example came when UNRWA Commissioner Karen Abu Zayd hastily called a video press conference to blame Israel for the war. Claiming that “it was obvious that Hamas was trying” to observe a truce and that “only one rocket… went out on Friday [before the operation],” she accused Israel of violating an “informal 48-hour lull.” The degree to which Abu Zayd just flat fabricated that story can’t be overemphasized. Suffice to say that not only had Hamas been firing rockets at Israel for months, but on that very Friday morning they had fired 25 shells. That’s a lot more than the 1 Abu Zayd counted, but global media outlets duly parroted her propaganda anyway.

In addition to helping Hamas in the media war, UNRWA also tried to shift the tempo of actual warfighting. On January 6, IDF troops hit a Hamas team that was firing rockets at Israeli civilians from outside an UNRWA school in the Jabalya refugee camp. Hamas had been launching rockets from the UNRWA school grounds since at least 2007, but UNRWA officials took the opportunity to accuse Israel of firing into the building and killing civilians inside. The idea was to create a Gaza version of “Qana,” the Lebanon II incident in which IAF planes targeting a Hezbollah rocket cell accidentally hit the apartment building the cell was using for cover, killing 28 of the human shields inside. The resulting international pressure forced Israel into a 48-hour ceasefire, allowing Hezbollah to regroup and allowing journalists to blame Israel anew when fighting resumed. UNRWA tried to do the same thing with the Jabalya school, mobilizing international calls for a ceasefire just as Hamas had become “desperate for a lull in the fighting.”

But Israel never hit the school. UNRWA just pretended it had. Called to account for their blatant fabrication, UNRWA officials blamed the demonstrable falsehood on – no joke – “a clerical error.”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that UNRWA officials are old hands at pro-Hamas wartime propaganda and tactics. It’s who they are, it’s what they do, and now it’s happening again.

UNRWA Spokesman Chris Gunness just got called out for being a “terrorist stooge” after he contended that Israel’s current anti-Hamas operation is “sick sick sick.” Gunness is unapologetic about his personal affection for Hamas partisans, having proudly declared that he amplifies Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah because Abunimah “is smart, principled, and makes me giggle” (Hussein Ibish on Abunimah: “he has defended the most recalcitrant elements in Hamas… his admiration for Hamas leaders is often gushing.”)

So it makes sense that Gunness would lash out against Israel, even though the rockets falling on UNRWA schools right now are Hamas-launched Qassams that fall short.

It makes less sense for the United States to continue paying the salary of a guy who suggests that Israel is killing Palestinians for sport, but multilateralism is magic that way. At times like this I like to muse over the recent question presented by the Forward, once one of America’s great ethnic news outlets and now a shoddy proponent of neutrality about BDS: why must American Jews persist in their unfair “misconceptions” about all the good work UNRWA does?

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It’s A Mixed-Up, Crazy World

For the second time in a week, Hamas gunmen have assaulted a transportation hub supplying Gaza. Last week the fuel transfer station at Nachal Oz was attacked. Today Hamas attacked both the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which humanitarian aid is supplied to Gaza, and, once again, the Nachal Oz station.

But wait: aren’t the Israelis the ones who want to stop fuel and humanitarian aid from getting to Gaza? In a strange new twist, Israel and Hamas have reversed their alleged roles: Israel is trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and Hamas is trying to create one.

The reason for these attacks? Hamas needs media attention to survive. The worst thing that could happen to Ismail Haniyah and Khaled Meshaal is for the world to stop paying attention to the disaster they’ve created. So if Hamas can’t convince Israel to shut the lights off with Qassam rockets (which the group routinely aims at the power station inside Israel that supplies Gaza with most of its electricity), or by confiscating half the fuel supplies that do make it into Gaza, it attacks Nachal Oz and Kerem Shalom directly. Anything to advance the false narrative of the Israeli blockade, keep Gaza in the headlines, and demonstrate the efficacy of Hamas’s resistance.

I wonder whether those members of the international community whose consciences are finely attuned to Palestinian suffering will respond to all of this by denouncing Hamas for its collective punishment of Gaza, for attempting to instigate a humanitarian crisis, for endangering the ability of hospitals to remain open, etc. You know: all the things Israel is routinely accused of doing, but which only Hamas ever seems to perpetrate.

For the second time in a week, Hamas gunmen have assaulted a transportation hub supplying Gaza. Last week the fuel transfer station at Nachal Oz was attacked. Today Hamas attacked both the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which humanitarian aid is supplied to Gaza, and, once again, the Nachal Oz station.

But wait: aren’t the Israelis the ones who want to stop fuel and humanitarian aid from getting to Gaza? In a strange new twist, Israel and Hamas have reversed their alleged roles: Israel is trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and Hamas is trying to create one.

The reason for these attacks? Hamas needs media attention to survive. The worst thing that could happen to Ismail Haniyah and Khaled Meshaal is for the world to stop paying attention to the disaster they’ve created. So if Hamas can’t convince Israel to shut the lights off with Qassam rockets (which the group routinely aims at the power station inside Israel that supplies Gaza with most of its electricity), or by confiscating half the fuel supplies that do make it into Gaza, it attacks Nachal Oz and Kerem Shalom directly. Anything to advance the false narrative of the Israeli blockade, keep Gaza in the headlines, and demonstrate the efficacy of Hamas’s resistance.

I wonder whether those members of the international community whose consciences are finely attuned to Palestinian suffering will respond to all of this by denouncing Hamas for its collective punishment of Gaza, for attempting to instigate a humanitarian crisis, for endangering the ability of hospitals to remain open, etc. You know: all the things Israel is routinely accused of doing, but which only Hamas ever seems to perpetrate.

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Does J Street Speak for Israelis?

A final thought on J Street: during the call yesterday, one of the organization’s leaders defended J Street’s advocacy of Israeli negotiations with Hamas by citing the fact that 64 percent of Israelis favor the same thing. Do they? Take it away, Gideon Lichfield:

Three weeks ago Ha’aretz’s pollster, Camil Fuchs, published a poll showing that 64% of Israelis favour holding talks with Hamas in order to get a ceasefire and release Gilad Shalit, the captured soldier. Today [March 18th] the Tami Steinmetz Centre has issued the latest monthly Peace Index. It says that only 25% of Israelis and just 17% of Israeli Jews favour negotiating with Hamas. …

The Ha’aretz poll asked people if they supported talks with Hamas: yes or no. The Steinmetz poll asked them the best way for Israel to deal with the Qassam rockets from Gaza: (1) talks with Hamas; (2) a relatively restrained military response . . . (3) a bigger but still limited response (ie, like the ground incursion that killed 110 people or so earlier this month); (4) a massive ground operation to reoccupy Gaza; (5) another option of your choice; (6) don’t know.

When you put the question like this, more Israeli Jews support reoccupying Gaza than talking to Hamas.

It seems to me that the J Streeters are never going to be able to escape the fact that, sitting in Washington, they are advocating policies for Israel that are overwhelmingly unpopular among Israelis — and attempting to brand this paternalism as “pro-Israel.”

A final thought on J Street: during the call yesterday, one of the organization’s leaders defended J Street’s advocacy of Israeli negotiations with Hamas by citing the fact that 64 percent of Israelis favor the same thing. Do they? Take it away, Gideon Lichfield:

Three weeks ago Ha’aretz’s pollster, Camil Fuchs, published a poll showing that 64% of Israelis favour holding talks with Hamas in order to get a ceasefire and release Gilad Shalit, the captured soldier. Today [March 18th] the Tami Steinmetz Centre has issued the latest monthly Peace Index. It says that only 25% of Israelis and just 17% of Israeli Jews favour negotiating with Hamas. …

The Ha’aretz poll asked people if they supported talks with Hamas: yes or no. The Steinmetz poll asked them the best way for Israel to deal with the Qassam rockets from Gaza: (1) talks with Hamas; (2) a relatively restrained military response . . . (3) a bigger but still limited response (ie, like the ground incursion that killed 110 people or so earlier this month); (4) a massive ground operation to reoccupy Gaza; (5) another option of your choice; (6) don’t know.

When you put the question like this, more Israeli Jews support reoccupying Gaza than talking to Hamas.

It seems to me that the J Streeters are never going to be able to escape the fact that, sitting in Washington, they are advocating policies for Israel that are overwhelmingly unpopular among Israelis — and attempting to brand this paternalism as “pro-Israel.”

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Talking Around Each Other

If anything positive can be said about Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, it’s that Cheney perfectly matched expectations with outcomes. Indeed, Cheney’s visit was minimally anticipated and catalyzed zero progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most disturbingly, the Vice-President’s presence exposed a widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian priorities relevant to the Annapolis “process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly addressed two entirely different realities in their meetings with Cheney. On one hand, Olmert spoke of Israel’s priorities primarily in regional terms: during his press conference with Cheney on Saturday, Olmert barely mentioned the Palestinians, neatly tucking a reference to peace negotiations among statements regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Abbas limited his priorities to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, decrying Israeli settlement expansion as a barrier to peace. Moreover, while both leaders expressed their frustration with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets emanating from Gaza, their strategies for addressing Hamas appeared irreconcilable: Olmert hinted that he would seek an affirmation of U.S. support for Israeli operations against the rockets, while Abbas denounced Israel’s “military escalation against Gaza.”

If the Bush administration wishes to follow its optimistic Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric with meaningful progress, bridging this gap must be a priority. It should begin by reminding Olmert that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which aim to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas—provide one critical means for undermining Iranian ascendancy. In this vein, the administration should take a tougher line against Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, which contradicts Olmert’s previous promises to halt construction and is mutually exclusive with the Bush administration’s desire to establish a Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, the administration must remind Abbas that another “national unity” attempt with Hamas—which will provide Hamas yet another window of “calm” for rearming and further consolidating its power—is mutually exclusive with ending the occupation. In this vein, the administration should closely follow the Yemeni-sponsored Hamas-Fatah negotiations, which could facilitate the end of Abbas’ reign as Washington’s great Palestinian hope.

Of course—as I’ve long argued—success in the Annapolis “process” remains highly improbable, beset by weak leaders, a lack of commitment to resolving the conflict’s substantive issues, and the disinterest of key regional players. Yet the Bush administration has invested heavily in promoting it, including through recent visits by the President and Vice-President, as well as rounds of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With barely nine months remaining in office, the administration will have to address both sides’ strategic concerns more directly—and thereby bridge the widening gap between them—if it hopes to receive any bang for this substantial diplomatic buck. Indeed, when the parties openly talk around each other in the presence of the Vice-President, the entire American peace enterprise—with its repetitive calls on leaders to make “tough decisions”—looks like a complete sham.

If anything positive can be said about Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, it’s that Cheney perfectly matched expectations with outcomes. Indeed, Cheney’s visit was minimally anticipated and catalyzed zero progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most disturbingly, the Vice-President’s presence exposed a widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian priorities relevant to the Annapolis “process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly addressed two entirely different realities in their meetings with Cheney. On one hand, Olmert spoke of Israel’s priorities primarily in regional terms: during his press conference with Cheney on Saturday, Olmert barely mentioned the Palestinians, neatly tucking a reference to peace negotiations among statements regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Abbas limited his priorities to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, decrying Israeli settlement expansion as a barrier to peace. Moreover, while both leaders expressed their frustration with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets emanating from Gaza, their strategies for addressing Hamas appeared irreconcilable: Olmert hinted that he would seek an affirmation of U.S. support for Israeli operations against the rockets, while Abbas denounced Israel’s “military escalation against Gaza.”

If the Bush administration wishes to follow its optimistic Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric with meaningful progress, bridging this gap must be a priority. It should begin by reminding Olmert that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which aim to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas—provide one critical means for undermining Iranian ascendancy. In this vein, the administration should take a tougher line against Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, which contradicts Olmert’s previous promises to halt construction and is mutually exclusive with the Bush administration’s desire to establish a Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, the administration must remind Abbas that another “national unity” attempt with Hamas—which will provide Hamas yet another window of “calm” for rearming and further consolidating its power—is mutually exclusive with ending the occupation. In this vein, the administration should closely follow the Yemeni-sponsored Hamas-Fatah negotiations, which could facilitate the end of Abbas’ reign as Washington’s great Palestinian hope.

Of course—as I’ve long argued—success in the Annapolis “process” remains highly improbable, beset by weak leaders, a lack of commitment to resolving the conflict’s substantive issues, and the disinterest of key regional players. Yet the Bush administration has invested heavily in promoting it, including through recent visits by the President and Vice-President, as well as rounds of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With barely nine months remaining in office, the administration will have to address both sides’ strategic concerns more directly—and thereby bridge the widening gap between them—if it hopes to receive any bang for this substantial diplomatic buck. Indeed, when the parties openly talk around each other in the presence of the Vice-President, the entire American peace enterprise—with its repetitive calls on leaders to make “tough decisions”—looks like a complete sham.

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Thanking Hamas

As Eric Trager has pointed out, Israel’s sealing off of Gaza raises some dangerous potentialities. One such potentiality has come to life, as Hamas just toppled a fence on Gaza’s Rafah border crossing allowing thousands of Palestinians to stream into Egypt. The New York Times describes the event as “a great bazaar” and seems to think the security breach represents a problem no greater than, say, Black Friday shoppers sustaining injuries during a door-buster sale. Meanwhile, the potential for arms replenishment is sure to be exploited to the hilt (as David Hazony notes below). But what really jumps out at the reader is this:

People began pouring over the fence before dawn, said one witness, Fatan Hessin, 45. She had crossed into Egypt to be reunited with a childhood friend from whom she had been separated by the border. “I am a Palestinian. I am not Hamas or Fatah, but I thank Hamas for this,” she said.

[…]

Ms. Hessin, who had used the breach of the border to meet up with her friend, Inshira Hanbal, on the Egyptian side of the border, said: “We are extremely tired of this life. The closure, the unemployment, the poverty. No one is working in my household.”

In these two quotes we see the flimsy declaration of Palestinian victimology for what it is: I’m not a terrorist or even politically-minded. I’m just a human being who wants to live freely. If Hamas delivers this freedom, then I thank them. But as for the poverty, the restrictions, and the violence that continue to quash my hopes for a decent existence—well, I’m extremely tired of it.

Ms. Hessin should thank Hamas for furnishing the daily hell that is her life in Gaza. Yet, she makes no connection between the Qassam rockets that regularly land on Israeli homes and the miserable conditions in which she lives.

As Eric Trager has pointed out, Israel’s sealing off of Gaza raises some dangerous potentialities. One such potentiality has come to life, as Hamas just toppled a fence on Gaza’s Rafah border crossing allowing thousands of Palestinians to stream into Egypt. The New York Times describes the event as “a great bazaar” and seems to think the security breach represents a problem no greater than, say, Black Friday shoppers sustaining injuries during a door-buster sale. Meanwhile, the potential for arms replenishment is sure to be exploited to the hilt (as David Hazony notes below). But what really jumps out at the reader is this:

People began pouring over the fence before dawn, said one witness, Fatan Hessin, 45. She had crossed into Egypt to be reunited with a childhood friend from whom she had been separated by the border. “I am a Palestinian. I am not Hamas or Fatah, but I thank Hamas for this,” she said.

[…]

Ms. Hessin, who had used the breach of the border to meet up with her friend, Inshira Hanbal, on the Egyptian side of the border, said: “We are extremely tired of this life. The closure, the unemployment, the poverty. No one is working in my household.”

In these two quotes we see the flimsy declaration of Palestinian victimology for what it is: I’m not a terrorist or even politically-minded. I’m just a human being who wants to live freely. If Hamas delivers this freedom, then I thank them. But as for the poverty, the restrictions, and the violence that continue to quash my hopes for a decent existence—well, I’m extremely tired of it.

Ms. Hessin should thank Hamas for furnishing the daily hell that is her life in Gaza. Yet, she makes no connection between the Qassam rockets that regularly land on Israeli homes and the miserable conditions in which she lives.

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Out of Ideas in Gaza

Israel’s new strategy for dealing with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza has many troubling implications. For Palestinians, the fuel cuts mean the severe rationing of electricity, little or no heat during the cold of winter, and very limited mobility. Most alarmingly, the power shortage has threatened hospitals, with half the surgeries that were scheduled for Monday delayed at Gaza’s main hospital. Unfortunately, Palestinian civilians are unlikely to enjoy relief any time soon: Hamas’ leadership remains more committed to exploiting the crisis for propaganda purposes than simply ending the rocket attacks, and its first act in the wake of Israel’s fuel cut was to turn off the lights and hit the airwaves. We can thus expect to see more gas lines and bread lines in the days to come.

But Israelis should also be concerned. The decision to firmly seal Gaza, shut off its fuel supply, and limit the import of food suggests that Israel’s leadership has completely run out of ideas for how it should address Hamas’ continued aggression. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has thrown Israel’s counterterrorism playbook out the window, subjecting 1.5 million Gazans to an existence that is merely better than a “humanitarian crisis”—in Olmert’s own words—rather than narrowly focusing his strategy against the terrorists. Olmert’s lack of creativity has extended to his defense of this approach, which has implied vindictiveness. As he told Kadima officials on Monday, “As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza’s residents can walk.”

The sealing of Gaza has serious strategic consequences for Israeli policy. When acting against aggression, Israel typically faces a limited timeframe in which it can accomplish its goals before international pressure forces it to cease operations. It is for this reason that its greatest military successes—including the 1967 war and 2002 Operation Defensive Shield—have come with remarkable swiftness. Alternatively, its greatest failures—the 1973 war and 2006 Lebanon War—have come when conflict was halted before Israel could realize concrete strategic accomplishments. Particularly when fighting guerrilla warfare—which rarely lends itself to swift victories—Israeli leaders must therefore aim to establish conditions under which the IDF is afforded a maximal timeframe in which it can operate. This increases the likelihood of success.

Yet Olmert’s strategy in Gaza does the opposite. From the moment the fuel was cut, the clock has been ticking rapidly, with the international community deeply concerned that a serious humanitarian crisis looms. Yesterday, Israel retreated under pressure from its ill-conceived policy, delivering a new supply of diesel and cooking-gas a mere 24 hours after Olmert vowed to not do so. Meanwhile, rockets have continued to hit Israel at a steady pace.
If the cuts to Gaza’s energy supply do not stem the flow of rockets in the next few days, Olmert will probably be forced to retreat further. Thereafter, it may be a while before Israel is granted a free hand to deal with terrorism emanating from Gaza. In the worst-case scenario, a spiraling humanitarian situation might increase the pressure on Israel to reach a truce with Hamas. In short, insofar as the current strategy takes too great a toll on Palestinian civilians, it is unsustainable and self-defeating.

Israel’s new strategy for dealing with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets fired from Gaza has many troubling implications. For Palestinians, the fuel cuts mean the severe rationing of electricity, little or no heat during the cold of winter, and very limited mobility. Most alarmingly, the power shortage has threatened hospitals, with half the surgeries that were scheduled for Monday delayed at Gaza’s main hospital. Unfortunately, Palestinian civilians are unlikely to enjoy relief any time soon: Hamas’ leadership remains more committed to exploiting the crisis for propaganda purposes than simply ending the rocket attacks, and its first act in the wake of Israel’s fuel cut was to turn off the lights and hit the airwaves. We can thus expect to see more gas lines and bread lines in the days to come.

But Israelis should also be concerned. The decision to firmly seal Gaza, shut off its fuel supply, and limit the import of food suggests that Israel’s leadership has completely run out of ideas for how it should address Hamas’ continued aggression. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has thrown Israel’s counterterrorism playbook out the window, subjecting 1.5 million Gazans to an existence that is merely better than a “humanitarian crisis”—in Olmert’s own words—rather than narrowly focusing his strategy against the terrorists. Olmert’s lack of creativity has extended to his defense of this approach, which has implied vindictiveness. As he told Kadima officials on Monday, “As far as I am concerned, all of Gaza’s residents can walk.”

The sealing of Gaza has serious strategic consequences for Israeli policy. When acting against aggression, Israel typically faces a limited timeframe in which it can accomplish its goals before international pressure forces it to cease operations. It is for this reason that its greatest military successes—including the 1967 war and 2002 Operation Defensive Shield—have come with remarkable swiftness. Alternatively, its greatest failures—the 1973 war and 2006 Lebanon War—have come when conflict was halted before Israel could realize concrete strategic accomplishments. Particularly when fighting guerrilla warfare—which rarely lends itself to swift victories—Israeli leaders must therefore aim to establish conditions under which the IDF is afforded a maximal timeframe in which it can operate. This increases the likelihood of success.

Yet Olmert’s strategy in Gaza does the opposite. From the moment the fuel was cut, the clock has been ticking rapidly, with the international community deeply concerned that a serious humanitarian crisis looms. Yesterday, Israel retreated under pressure from its ill-conceived policy, delivering a new supply of diesel and cooking-gas a mere 24 hours after Olmert vowed to not do so. Meanwhile, rockets have continued to hit Israel at a steady pace.
If the cuts to Gaza’s energy supply do not stem the flow of rockets in the next few days, Olmert will probably be forced to retreat further. Thereafter, it may be a while before Israel is granted a free hand to deal with terrorism emanating from Gaza. In the worst-case scenario, a spiraling humanitarian situation might increase the pressure on Israel to reach a truce with Hamas. In short, insofar as the current strategy takes too great a toll on Palestinian civilians, it is unsustainable and self-defeating.

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What is MTHEL?

What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?
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What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?

That is a vital question, requiring an urgent answer. Writing in the New York Sun, Halkin suggested three: none of them at all appealing.

The first is using air power to destroy rocket launchers as they are discovered and killing the organizers of such attacks with targeted assassinations. But Halkin is not convinced this will be successful: “the anarchy in Palestinian society has reached the point that not even the heads of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, were they to seek to stop the Qassam attacks because they feared for their own lives, would necessarily be able to do so.”

A second approach would be to reoccupy Gaza. But this has significant drawbacks: “the price Israel would pay for this in terms of military casualties would be high” and the last thing Israel needs “is once again to have to police this tiny, overpopulated strip of human misery that is an ideal place for urban guerrilla warfare.”

Another idea is for Israel to answer rocket attacks with artillery fire, leveling those portions of the Gaza strip from which the rocket-fire emanates. Halkin finds this solution to be “ugly,” but also the “best” of the three. It might, he suggests, “put an end to violence very quickly, once Palestinians in Gaza became as panicky as Israelis in Sderot and screamed at their leaders to put an end to it.”

Halkin might well be right in his ranking, but there is a fourth approach that should be considered—not just considered but made an urgent priority. It has implications not just for facing down the terrorists of Hamastan but also for pacifying the rocket-rich territory of Hizbollahland to the north and for contending with other dangers yet to emerge.

It is called MTHEL. Both the Pentagon and Israel were investing heavily in it up until 2005, when spending was abruptly cut. Although not much discussed, that decision seems to have been a far worse Israeli blunder than any committed in the course of last summer’s war. But what is MTHEL? It stands for Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser. To watch it in action, click on the video below.

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Pragmatism, Hamas-Style

The world woke up this morning to read that Israel had rounded up more than 30 senior members of Hamas, including Nasser Shaer, the education minister in the Palestinian Authority’s cabinet. Was this a mistake on Israel’s part? After all, Shaer is “considered a pragmatist in the movement,” according to the Associated Press.

Hamas is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But if one is to judge by much of the reporting about Hamas in recent years, the Islamic organization is a veritable hotbed not of terrorism but of pragmatism.

Thus, according to an April dispatch from the AP, Hamas filled its seats in the Palestinian Authority cabinet “with professionals and pragmatists, keeping its ideologues at home.”

Azik Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the parliament, is “viewed as a pragmatist,” according to the New York Times.

And then, of course, there is the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, whose “folksy nature,” reports the AP, “has won him the label of pragmatist.”

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The world woke up this morning to read that Israel had rounded up more than 30 senior members of Hamas, including Nasser Shaer, the education minister in the Palestinian Authority’s cabinet. Was this a mistake on Israel’s part? After all, Shaer is “considered a pragmatist in the movement,” according to the Associated Press.

Hamas is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But if one is to judge by much of the reporting about Hamas in recent years, the Islamic organization is a veritable hotbed not of terrorism but of pragmatism.

Thus, according to an April dispatch from the AP, Hamas filled its seats in the Palestinian Authority cabinet “with professionals and pragmatists, keeping its ideologues at home.”

Azik Dweik, the Hamas speaker of the parliament, is “viewed as a pragmatist,” according to the New York Times.

And then, of course, there is the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, whose “folksy nature,” reports the AP, “has won him the label of pragmatist.”

For its part, the Economist sees a path to end the “cycle of violence”: interested parties should seek to “cajole the relative pragmatists in Hamas (yes, they do exist) into accepting the reality of Israel and, of course, into disavowing violence.”

What exactly is pragmatism in the context of Hamas? It is rarely defined. One exception can be found in a 2003 column in the Washington Post by a Jerusalem-based producer for ABC news under the headline “A True Palestinian Pragmatist.” It was a portrait of a senior member of Hamas, who had only just been killed by missiles fired from an Israeli helicopter. “The last time I visited Ismail Abu Shanab three weeks ago he was smiling” and “[s]troking his daughter’s head.” His death “affords a glimpse into the paradoxical life of a Palestinian pragmatist—a person who backs peace while railing against it.”

Of course, this “true Palestinian pragmatist,” the Post column was careful to caution, “was no saint.” He was an active participant in “an Islamic terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in suicide bombings. He served time in prison for the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. He denounced American imperialism and Washington’s conspiracies against the Arabs. He often spoke of how the Zionist lobby controlled the United States.”

Yet on the other side of the coin, Shanab “was not your average terrorist either” and he “tried to avoid praising suicide bombings.” In the end, he only “grudgingly offered himself as a martyr for the national cause.” But grudging martyr for the national cause or not, at least he was a pragmatist—“a person who backs peace while railing against it.”

Even though Shanab was killed by Israel, Hamas seems to contain many more pragmatists just like him. They fervently back peace even as they grudgingly, or not so grudgingly, fire Qassam rockets into Israel and call for its inhabitants to be driven into the sea. As journalists around the world all seem to know—perhaps it is something taught in journalism school—pragmatism is a wonderfully flexible term. 

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