Commentary Magazine


Honoring The Threat

Well, peace has prevailed in Gaza. Or, at least, Israel has said it’s going to stop fighting, and Hamas is renewing its vow to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, which is as close to “peace” as you’re going to get. Expect Hamas to use the breather to fire more rockets into Israel, while Israel is urged to “show restraint,” and the same old game to starts up all over again.

The “restraint” argument is one of the most specious lines of criticism. As civil and decent and responsible and humane as it sounds, it’s ultimately self-defeating.

Hamas’s core purpose — enshrined in its charter — is the destruction of Israel. That must end before there can be any kind of peace between Israel and Hamas, yet Hamas has not shown the slightest inclination to alter their goal. Indeed, at every opportunity, they reaffirm it. And it seems that nothing Israel does brings any such alteration closer — everything it does prompts Hamas to reassert its intentions. Israel pulls out of Gaza — it’s a great victory for Hamas. Israel strikes Gaza — it’s a provocation. Israel does nothing — then they are cowards. It’s reminiscent of the argument over global cooling, or global warming, or climate change — everything is proof of one side, nothing is proof of the other.

The “restraint” and “proportionality” canards need to be rebutted thoroughly. The United States Air Force has its own policy version of such a rebuttal: it’s called “Honor the threat.”

When a threat is made — verbally or nonverbally, explicitly or implicitly — it must be treated as legitimate until it is either countered or proven to be of no real danger. And even if it proves to be of no immediate potency, it’s a good idea to keep a suspicious eye on it for some time, in case things change.

Hamas has made its threat. It says that it is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Not the liberation of the Palestinian people, not freedom and peace, but destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamist state. All the group’s words and deeds are variations on that core theme.

The threat is made. It must be honored.

Can Hamas actually destroy Israel? Not today. We know this through simple logic. Has Hamas ever given any sign that it is exercising restraint or moderation?

The answer is obviously no. Members are doing all they can to kill Israelis. The fact that they have not killed or wounded more is a fairly convincing argument that they are not capable of doing more.

Broadly speaking, the threat from Hamas can decrease, remain relatively stable, or it can increase.

Let’s accept that in the short term, the threat from Hamas has been lessened. Several hundred of its fighters, including some key leaders, have been converted to the “non-threatening” category by virtue of having been killed. A lot of its stockpiles of weapons have been destroyed, and the group’s standing among the people of Gaza has been damaged by its inability to stop (or even seriously inconvenience) the IDF.

But that’s very short-term. Weeks, maybe months. In the long term, is Hamas likely to pose less of a threat to Israel? Is there a chance that this bloody nose will bring them to their senses?

Not likely. Indeed, according to Hamas leaders’ own words, the war in Gaza has done nothing but redouble (for the six jillionth time, by my reckoning) their resolve.

Will Hamas’s threats remain at their current levels? Will they be content with their current capabilities and keep plugging away as they have been for years?

In a word, no. Hamas has tended to increase its ability to attack Israel. It has moved from snipers and cross-border raids to outright kidnapping and armed assaults on border crossings. The crude Qassam rockets have been supplemented by Grad rockets, which have greater range, accuracy, and warheads. Most importantly, the group’s Iranian sponsors have been steadily increasing political and material support for actions against Israel. This is where Hamas’s existential threat to Israel comes into play.

To argue that Hamas will somehow be enlightened to the benefits of peace and the joys of a negotiated settlement is sheer self-delusion. There is not a trace of evidence from Hamas to back up that fantasy. Indeed, their “cease-fire” proposal can be summed up simply: Get out of Gaza and end the embargo so we can get even more weapons. Open the borders so we can smuggle those weapons into Israel, and we’ll think about stopping the rockets. And don’t even bother asking about Gilad Shalit.

To show “restraint” or limit the response to one deemed “proportional” by the international community is not just folly, but suicidal. Sadly, much of the world seems to have no problem with that — witness the widespread condemnation of Israel, the openly anti-Semitic riots, and the outright cheering for Hamas.

If negotiating a settlement represents the greatest hope for dealing with Hamas, we’re a long time away from a solution. In the meantime, the military option is the best way to buy time until mature, realistic Palestinian leadership emerges. The periodic destruction of Hamas’s military capabilities slows the group’s progress toward becoming an existential threat to Israel.

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