To its credit, yesterday the State Department rightly declared that Hamas was responsible for the latest round of violence along the Gaza border and that Israel had the right to defend itself. Even the New York Times editorial page affirmed that Israel had that right this morning. But the Times, speaking as it does for liberal conventional wisdom, claimed that Israel’s government was wrong to exercise that right. Rather than taking out the head of the terrorist group’s military wing, it “could have responded as it usually has in recent years, avoiding high-profile assassinations while attacking rocket-launching squads, empty training sites and weapons manufacturing plants.” The Times also suggested Israel could have implored the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt to intervene on its behalf with its Hamas ally. It concluded by saying that an even better idea would have been to conduct peace negotiations with Hamas’s Fatah rivals.
This risible list of suggestions provides the background to the debate that will, no doubt, soon ensue as inevitably the discussion about what has happened begins to revolve around how zealously Israel should defend itself. Farcical stories, such as those claiming Hamas was willing to make peace or at least agree to a permanent cease-fire, and that this was only prevented by a cynical decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch a counter-attack, will be told and believed by those who always buy into the lies of the terrorists. It will be argued that Israel needn’t have treated the latest massive barrage of rockets on its southern region as a big deal. But all this will be merely a cover for what is really at stake: the right of the Jewish state to live in peace, irrespective of where its borders are drawn.
The problem with all of the helpful suggestions that Israel is getting this week is that these suggestions treat the basic premise of Hamas’s strategic plan as either normal or reasonable. What’s wrong with the calls for restraint or the barbed comments about better alternatives to retaliation is that they are based on the idea that Israel ought to be willing to tolerate a “normal” amount of terrorism emanating from Gaza.
Throughout 2012 several hundred rockets have been fired from the Hamas-run enclave at southern Israel. Up until today, when three Israelis were killed in Kiryat Malakhi, there were no fatalities. But life under the threat of rocket fire in a region where more than one million Israelis live was never normal. Even the new and improved anti-missile systems the country can deploy are not good enough to prevent terrorist squads from taking pot shots at the country’s southern cities, towns and villages.
Many in the foreign policy establishment have spoken of Hamas as having embraced non-violence in the last year. But the group continued to not only fire rockets and to tolerate attacks from smaller organizations, it also continued to dig tunnels, such as the one found last week, designed to facilitate terrorist operations inside Israel and to build up its arsenal of rockets.
Some allege that Netanyahu’s decision to retaliate for the recent surge in rocket attacks is linked to his own political prospects in Israel’s January elections. But that reverses the truth about the fighting. It is Hamas that is playing politics with rockets as it seeks to upstage the Palestinian Authority and to solidify its popularity by demonstrating that it is attacking Israel.
Netanyahu is hoping that he can avoid a costly ground operation. Few in Israel want any part of an infantry battle inside Gaza or to return to governing the area that it abandoned in 2005. But the idea that Israel has reasonable alternatives to air operations intended to hamper Hamas’s ability to attack Israel is a myth. The peace process is dead in the water precisely because support for terror against Israel and opposition to its right to exist makes it impossible for any Palestinian moderates — and it is a stretch to claim that term applies to the PA and its Fatah leadership — to negotiate with Israel. If there is to be any hope for peace, Hamas terrorism must be stopped. The group provoked this battle because it believed that the fighting would enhance its standing with Palestinians while doing nothing to harm its warm relations with Egypt and Turkey. But its leadership must be made to understand that the cost of this fighting will be higher than it can afford to pay.
There may be no definitive answer to the threat from Hamas, but continuing to ignore it is no solution. Netanyahu’s problem stems in large measure from a willingness on the part of the international community to treat the existence of a terrorist state on Israel’s borders as something that it must be forced to live with. Those that ask Israel to go on living with “normal” terrorism and to take no serious measures to halt the constant barrage of missiles onto its territory are acting as if the lives of those who live under this threat are worth nothing. That is a premise no government can ever accept.