Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hamas

When Is It a War Crime to Defend Yourself? If You’re an Israeli.

Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of  particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.

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Yesterday, Amnesty International issued its latest broadside at the State of Israel. The group’s report, titled “Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah” dutifully reported at length by the New York Times, seeks to portray an incident from last summer’s war in Gaza as an example of  particularly awful Israeli war crimes involving shelling of civilian areas and egregious loss of life. But, as with most such accusations, the closer you look at the charge the more it becomes clear that the point of the exercise isn’t merely a supposed quest for justice for dead Palestinians. While this must be seen in the context of a campaign to prepare war crimes charges against the Israel Defense Forces before the International Criminal Court that was recently joined by the Palestinian Authority, the effort has a broader purpose than merely beginning a human rights prosecution before that body. By expending a great deal of its limited resources on this one incident, Amnesty is seeking to make a much broader political point: delegitimizing Israeli self-defense under virtually any circumstances.

The incident that generated the reported took place on August 1, 2014. On that morning, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was put into effect that sought to end the war that had begun a month earlier. The conflict started when a Hamas terror cell kidnaped and murdered three Israeli teenagers and then escalated when the group began firing rockets at Israeli cities and towns. Several thousand of these missiles would be launched at Israel before the war ended. In addition to that, Hamas attempted to employ tunnels it had dug underneath the border with Israel to conduct more such kidnap/murder raids. Though the Israelis tried at first to halt the attacks with air power, when that didn’t work, ground forces were required to stop the terrorists. Though the August 1st cease-fire — like the one that later finally did end the shooting — left Hamas in place and in possession of its rocket arsenal, Israel agreed to it.

But only an hour after the fighting was supposed to stop, a Hamas terror squad ambushed a group of Israeli soldiers in the city of Rafah along the border with Israel. Two were killed and the body of one, Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was dragged into the tunnel from which his attackers had emerged. That set off a desperate search and counter-attack aimed at recovering him and/or his body. That directive, known by the code name, “Hannibal” aims to use maximum force to prevent terrorists from escaping with a hostage. The order is always controversial because some interpret it as encouraging Israeli forces to even endanger the life of the captured soldier rather than standing down and subjecting both the individual and his country to a protracted hostage negotiation that inevitably involves the release of a disproportionate number of terrorist murderers.

In this case, Amnesty accuses Israel of using artillery fire in such a way as to conduct “disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks” on civilian areas with no regard for the lives of innocents who might be killed in the barrage. According to Amnesty and its Palestinian sources, the Israelis fired 1,000 shells and 40 bombs on the area where the Hamas assault took place resulting in 135 Palestinian deaths.

But while the loss of life during this battle was regrettable, the focus of the Amnesty report is remarkably skewed.

After all, the one war crime that we can be sure that took place was the attack on Goldin and his squad. It was a deliberate violation of a cease-fire that might have been a godsend for ordinary Palestinians, but which didn’t serve the purposes of Hamas. Having bled Gaza white for weeks, the leaders of the terrorist group were not yet satisfied with the toll of casualties among their own people. Hamas places its missile launchers and terror squads among civilians in order to deliberately expose them to Israeli fire. While there are plenty of fortified shelters in the strip for Hamas fighters and their massive arsenal, there are few for civilians. In Hamas-run Gaza, the shelters are for the bombs, not the people.

That means that any fair-minded observer of the events of August 1, 2014 must concede that the responsibility for all of the casualties the ensued as Israeli and Hamas forces fought in Rafah that day belongs to those who cynically ordered the attack on the Israeli soldiers that ended the cease-fire. The tunnel they used ran through residential areas, and the flight of these terrorists was such that they deliberately and with malice aforethought endangered the lives of all those who lived in the area. Their goal was not only to spirit away a hostage but also to create the kind of havoc that would result in more accusations against Israel.

But the minute analysis of every round fired by the Israelis by Amnesty not only doesn’t take that into account or put their accusations in a reasonable context. It also treats the effort to rescue Goldin — who probably did not survive the initial attack — as wrong while treating the assault on the Israelis as a reasonable and even legal action. But even in the course of its effort to demonize the Israeli actions by pouring on the details of bullets and shells fired amid a chaotic battle amid the fog of war, Amnesty cannot help falsifying their indictment. The report fails to take into account that along with the civilians who were sadly killed or wounded as a result of terrorist actions, some of the casualties they lament were actually Hamas or Islamic Jihad personnel.

But no matter how you break down the battle, the talk of disproportionate fire frames the discussion in a way that inevitably skews it toward treating the Israelis as the transgressors rather than a combatant. Would any nation, including Western democracies or the United States, be any less “indiscriminate” in its fire on terrorists attacking its cities and its troops than the Israelis? The answer is obviously not. As General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in his comments about the Gaza war, the conduct of the Israelis in the fighting was a model that U.S. forces seek to emulate in their own conflicts in the Middle East. Indeed, the same accusations of “disproportionate” fire are often, and sometimes with more reason, lodged against Americans fighting in Afghanistan or bombing Taliban or al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan.

As for the “Hannibal” directive, the discussion is a controversial one even within Israel. But the assumption that it means that soldiers are ordered to kill one of their own rather than let them be taken is probably a misunderstanding. Any hostage in a war zone is, by definition, in harm’s way and faces a good chance of becoming a casualty. The Israelis rightly seek to prevent the capture of their people. Doing so spares the country and the individual from a terrible ordeal. Efforts to prevent these crimes deserve the praise of fair-minded people, not their condemnation.

The effort to turn the effort to save Hadar Goldin was, like the entire counter-offensive that Israel conducted in Gaza last summer, entirely justified. The blame for the deaths of Palestinians needs to be placed at the door of the Hamas terrorists that started the conflict and then broke a cease-fire in a conscious effort to set in motion the tragic events that then unfolded.

In the meantime, the family of Lt. Goldin still awaits the return of his body from Hamas that may be holding his remains in order to exact another gruesome exchange for live killers. If Amnesty wants to live up to its claim of advocacy for human rights, it might want to get involved in that issue. More to the point, the group and its financial backers need to understand that by conducting such attacks on Israel, it cannot pretend that is rationalizing the actions of one side in the conflict. In this case, their version of human rights advocacy appears to be indistinguishable from rationalizing the crimes of terrorists and seeking to hamstring the efforts of those seeking to stop them.

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Nuclear Deal Will Enable Iran-Sponsored Terrorism

With the world’s attention focused squarely on the Iran nuclear talks, the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza has largely gone unnoticed in the international press. However, the steady pace of tunnel building and arms imports into the strip has not escaped the notion of Israel’s defense establishment. Hamas has bragged of its ability to maintain the pace of construction at the Israeli border on tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks. While Israelis hope that Hamas is serious about maintaining the cease-fire that has held since last summer’s war, they rightly worry about whether dissatisfaction with its rule will lead the leadership of the group to conclude that another round of violence is the best to stay in power as well as to undermine its Fatah rivals in the West Bank. But one aspect of the deal that Congress needs to thoroughly explore before it votes on the agreement is the degree to that the money that will flood into the Islamist regime once sanctions are lifted may serve to provide another major incentive that could provide the spark for another war.

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With the world’s attention focused squarely on the Iran nuclear talks, the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza has largely gone unnoticed in the international press. However, the steady pace of tunnel building and arms imports into the strip has not escaped the notion of Israel’s defense establishment. Hamas has bragged of its ability to maintain the pace of construction at the Israeli border on tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks. While Israelis hope that Hamas is serious about maintaining the cease-fire that has held since last summer’s war, they rightly worry about whether dissatisfaction with its rule will lead the leadership of the group to conclude that another round of violence is the best to stay in power as well as to undermine its Fatah rivals in the West Bank. But one aspect of the deal that Congress needs to thoroughly explore before it votes on the agreement is the degree to that the money that will flood into the Islamist regime once sanctions are lifted may serve to provide another major incentive that could provide the spark for another war.

The situation in Gaza is generally depicted in the international press as one of squalor and deprivation. But economic problems have not prevented Hamas from diverting a significant portion of the aid the strip receives away from reconstruction of homes destroyed in last year’s war towards the rebuilding of their military infrastructure. Rather than hiding its plans, Hamas has repeatedly boasted in public about efforts to build more tunnels under the border that would be used for murder and kidnapping raids inside Israel. The partial blockade Israel tries to enforce with help from Egypt is geared toward preventing Hamas from bringing in materials that could be used for either tunnel building or the construction of strongholds that would shield terrorists and their armaments from counter-attack. But to their chagrin, the Israelis have discovered that some of the material used for this purpose is actually being brought into Gaza via the daily convoys from Israel that are supposed to deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military items.

That’s a troubling breakdown for the Israelis that, as the Times of Israel reports, helps to explain how Hamas has maintained the steady work on the tunnels despite heat and lack of pay for the hundreds slaving away underground on the project reportedly with heavy engineering equipment. If, as Israeli authorities now assume, Hamas has at least one tunnel already completed that has not yet been detected, the stage is already set for a terrorist outrage that could set off another rocket barrage on Israeli cities in the coming months. Hamas may fear that a new war might lead the Israeli government to decide to act decisively against them this time. Yet they also know that pressure from an Obama administration that wants nothing to undermine its pact with Iran will continue to serve as a decisive restraint on Israeli policy.

Israel and the U.S. may hope that Hamas will see the maintenance of the cease-fire as in their interests as well as that of the residents of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza But Iran may have other ideas. Its rapprochement with Hamas in the last year was made possible in no small measure by the Obama administration’s soft approach to Syria. Hamas broke with Iran over Assad but has backtracked now that it’s clear that efforts to install an Islamist regime in its place have failed due to Tehran’s military intervention and the West’s decision to do nothing but talk about the need for Assad to go. Hamas-Iran reconciliation gives Tehran a southern ally to go with its Hezbollah auxiliaries that threaten Israel from the north.

This is important because of Iran’s predilection for making mischief in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. But the flood of cash into Iran’s coffers that will follow the completion of the nuclear deal will significantly enhance its ability to shower aid on its allies. Not even the Obama administration denies that Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. With Israel being the leading voice against the Western push for détente with Tehran, the ayatollahs have every reason to try to ratchet up the pressure on the Jewish state via new attacks from Hamas that might, unlike the case with last summer’s fighting, be coordinated with rocket launches from Hezbollah in the north.

The administration has been trying to deny that their diplomacy will have an impact on Hamas and Hezbollah. But, as Israeli blogger Jeffrey Grossman noted yesterday, they’re having trouble keeping their stories straight. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Iran would not be allowed to use their new riches to help their terrorist allies. But National Security Advisor Susan Rice has conceded that there would be nothing to stop them from sending funds (but not arms as they already do) to Hamas. Meanwhile the Iranians are making it clear that nothing in the deal will stop them from doing whatever they like with regard to helping their terrorist friends. They’re right about that. Nothing in the agreement will prevent Iran-sponsored terrorism.

The pact deserves to be rejected on the nuclear issue alone since it gives Iran a clear path to a bomb even if it observes its terms with a short 10 to 15 year period. The lack of transparency and the failure to set up a meaningful inspections procedure that would provide the anytime, anywhere access that the administration once promised was a given means it is a blatant act of nuclear appeasement. But even as we rightly focus on the nuclear threat, the short-term impact of its terms on Iran’s ability to aid terrorism is equally important. An Iranian bomb may have to wait until it reaps all the benefits of President Obama’s foolish desire for détente with Tehran. But a new war from a Hamas aided by its powerful Iranian friend may be the first calamity that will result from this fiasco.

 

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The Next Time Hamas Must Be Destroyed

One year ago, Hamas terrorists launched a war against Israel that lasted 50 days. When the dust settled, both sides were forced to accept a return to the status quo that had prevailed before the fighting began. But as both sides to the conflict continue to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable next round, Israeli leaders must consider whether the change in tactics by Hamas last time requires them to adjust their own strategy. If, as Mitch Ginsburg writes in the Times of Israel, Hamas’s approach is no longer purely defensive but rather predicated on a belief that carrying the fight into Israel will bring them victory, that may lead Jerusalem to start thinking the heretofore unthinkable about a Gaza war plan that could hinge on decapitating the Hamas leadership and/or ending its rule.

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One year ago, Hamas terrorists launched a war against Israel that lasted 50 days. When the dust settled, both sides were forced to accept a return to the status quo that had prevailed before the fighting began. But as both sides to the conflict continue to prepare for what seems to be an inevitable next round, Israeli leaders must consider whether the change in tactics by Hamas last time requires them to adjust their own strategy. If, as Mitch Ginsburg writes in the Times of Israel, Hamas’s approach is no longer purely defensive but rather predicated on a belief that carrying the fight into Israel will bring them victory, that may lead Jerusalem to start thinking the heretofore unthinkable about a Gaza war plan that could hinge on decapitating the Hamas leadership and/or ending its rule.

Last year’s war was a summer-long nightmare for Israelis who spent much of it scurrying into shelters during air raids. But after thousands of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli cities and the use of terror tunnels not much had changed other than the loss of more than 2,000 Palestinians (including several hundred civilians) dead and the fact that much of the strip was left in ruins. Hamas paid no political price for its cynical decision to go to war or its continued use of civilians as human shields. To the contrary, Israel was battered by unfair criticisms of its tactics, including some from an Obama administration that failed to listen to the statement from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that said its actions were a model for U.S. forces.

Hamas has signaled at times during the past months that it would like to extend the cease-fire with Israel that went back into effect after the shooting stopped. But a combination of factors may lead it to change course and launch another terror offensive. The increased pressure on its rule from Egypt that rightly sees it as an ally of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists that seek to overthrow the Sisi government and the revived support from Iran could lead the Hamas leadership to think that another war would further undermine support for the Fatah rivals that rule the West Bank. They also may think the hostile attitude of the Obama administration toward the Netanyahu government is a green light to action that might further divide the two allies.

If so, the Israel Defense Forces is prepared. As Ginsburg writes, the IDF is seeking to learn the lessons of the last war and is working hard to be ready to counter terror tunnels into Israel as well as what appeared to be a shift in Hamas tactics that prioritized offensive actions aimed at taking the fight into the Jewish state rather than sitting back and waiting for their foes to exhaust themselves in Gaza.

But there may be more to their calculations than new tactics designed to thwart tunnels, more special forces operations or the latest technology to knock down rockets intended to kill random civilians. Part of Israel’s deterrence is the way the Israeli population united in the face of the assault from Hamas and carried on with normal life despite weeks of rocket attacks. So, too, is the Jewish state’s willingness to keep fighting what may be a generations-long war against Islamist terror that can yield no clear outcome. But the debate about the endgame with Gaza that was resolved in favor of avoiding a counter-offensive that would have ended Hamas rule may be decided differently this time.

Given Prime Minister Netanyahu’s innate caution when it comes to the use of force as well as the high casualties that would be inevitable should Israel seek to take out Hamas that seems unlikely. But if Gaza forces Israel’s hand again, the only answer may be, as Ginsburg quotes some military analysts saying, an effort to insert IDF troops deep inside Gaza at the start of the next war rather than the long wait the preceded the limited ground offensive last year.

More to the point, the presence of ISIS in Gaza and the very real possibility that Hamas is cooperating with them against Egypt in the Sinai may create an opportunity for the two countries to cooperate in an effort to end a threat to both of them of a deadly threat. Hamas must take into consideration the chance that the next war won’t be a limited one in which it can rely on international pressure and fear of casualties to force Israel to accept its continued control of Gaza. But the only way to stop what many see as an inevitable rematch in Gaza will be to convince Hamas that the next war will be its last. That may be a course of action that the Obama administration will oppose as it seeks to revive a peace process that has no chance of succeeding after the Iran nuclear deal has been signed and ratified by Congress. But it is exactly what U.S. Middle East policy ought to be if it was being conducted in a manner that prioritized peace rather than the president’s fantasies about bringing peace to the world.

 

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The Threat From the Hamas-ISIS Connection

To listen to both Hamas and ISIS, the two Islamist terror groups are enemies. As Foreign Policy noted back in May, Hamas views the Islamic State as a threat to its despotic hold on power in Gaza and destroyed a mosque affiliated with its followers. ISIS returns the sentiment, condemning Hamas for its brutal rule and vowing as recently as this week that it will topple them. What then should we make of the news coming out of Israel this week that Hamas provided vital help to ISIS’s deadly terror attack on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai. No doubt some of Hamas’s apologists will dismiss the claim as an attempt by Israel to discredit an enemy in the eyes of the West. But given the scale of the Sinai attack it is hard to believe that ISIS would have been able to pull it off without serious assistance and the only possible source of that help would have to be Hamas-ruled Gaza. If true, this should not only heighten concerns about the spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East but also call into question some of the assumptions that many in the foreign policy establishment have held about Hamas being a stabilizing rather than a purely destructive force in the region.

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To listen to both Hamas and ISIS, the two Islamist terror groups are enemies. As Foreign Policy noted back in May, Hamas views the Islamic State as a threat to its despotic hold on power in Gaza and destroyed a mosque affiliated with its followers. ISIS returns the sentiment, condemning Hamas for its brutal rule and vowing as recently as this week that it will topple them. What then should we make of the news coming out of Israel this week that Hamas provided vital help to ISIS’s deadly terror attack on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai. No doubt some of Hamas’s apologists will dismiss the claim as an attempt by Israel to discredit an enemy in the eyes of the West. But given the scale of the Sinai attack it is hard to believe that ISIS would have been able to pull it off without serious assistance and the only possible source of that help would have to be Hamas-ruled Gaza. If true, this should not only heighten concerns about the spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East but also call into question some of the assumptions that many in the foreign policy establishment have held about Hamas being a stabilizing rather than a purely destructive force in the region.

As the Times of Israel reports, Israeli military intelligence has made public the fact that Hamas provided both military support to the ISIS operation that killed dozens of Egyptian but has also helped bring wounded ISIS terrorists out of Sinai into Gaza. The Israelis say they have direct proof of involvement in this week’s atrocity and also evidence that leading members of the Hamas’s military wing have been directly involved in assistance to ISIS.

Given the public hostility between the two groups, how is that possible?

The answer to that question comes in two parts. The first relates to the difference between public stances and political reality. The other is a function of the old saying about the enemy of my enemy being my friend.

It would be foolish to think that Hamas and ISIS don’t regard each other with hostility. Hamas rightly fears the growth of any Islamist group that might outflank it by posing as being even more belligerent and bloodthirsty than it may be. Hamas has dealt harshly with any potential rival in Gaza, be it the mainstream Fatah Palestinian party that rules the West Bank or the more radical Islamic Jihad. Hamas regards any rival faction as an enemy by definition and treats them accordingly.

By the same token, ISIS regards all those that won’t recognize the authority of its so-called “caliphate” as foes to be killed without mercy. Its rise throughout the region has been fueled in part by posing as a defender of Islamic values against corrupt elites. Though this is the same game that Hamas played as it gained a foothold in Palestinian politics at the expense of Fatah, they fit nicely into the same role that the corrupt party of Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas played for them. Hamas is every bit as tyrannical as any other Arab or Muslim regime and ISIS clearly thinks it can gain by pretending to be better.

Yet to think of ISIS and Hamas as being in a state of war may be to overestimate their hostility and underrate their grasp of political reality. Hamas doesn’t so much fear ISIS as it does worry about a wild card group making decisions for them about war with Israel at a moment when they might prefer to continue the truce with the Jewish state. Similarly, ISIS has enough on its plate fighting in Syria and Iraq against forces that would like to see it destroyed without opening up a new front in Gaza at a moment when its strength there is minuscule compared to the enormous military that Hamas can deploy against Israel.

But despite animosity and distrust, it is more than obvious that both Hamas and ISIS share a common enemy in Egypt. The Sisi government in Cairo is dedicated to the eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood and regards Hamas, which was founded by Brotherhood supporters and whose help to the group during the unrest in Egypt was included in the charges against former President Mohammed Morsi, as a hostile entity. Egypt is even more determined to isolate Gaza than Israel. In that sense, the Hamas-ISIS connection is a natural alliance.

That’s why Hamas has a vested interest in creating more chaos in Sinai than exists along its border with Israel. No matter what their opinion of each other might be, Hamas understands that the Egyptian government is a far more dangerous threat to its continued survival than is Israel. Under the circumstances it doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to believe that Israel’s intelligence about Hamas’s involvement in ISIS activities in Sinai has the ring of truth.

This realization ought to do more than cause concern in both Cairo and Jerusalem. The Sinai had already been transformed into something of a Wild West for terror in the years since a bloody Hamas coup allowed the group to seize control of the independent Palestinian state (in all but name) that currently exists in Gaza. But with ISIS moving into the void of security that the Sinai has become, a low level conflict with terrorists may be about to turn into something far more serious.

More to the point, this tacit alliance between otherwise rival Islamist terror groups ought to cause some foreign policy experts who have regarded Western acquiescence toward Hamas’s continued grip on Gaza as a given to rethink that assumption. If Gaza is no longer merely a launching pad for rockets and tunnels aimed at terrorizing Israelis but is also a base for terror aimed at toppling moderate Arab governments, continued tolerance of its sovereignty in Gaza is not only morally wrong; it is a suicidal proposition for the West.

Just as the Israelis have refrained from toppling Hamas in Gaza lest they be stuck governing the dysfunctional strip, so too do Western nations have a distaste for regime change in the strip. But perhaps it is time that those who were so quick to criticize Israel for launching a counter-attack against Gaza-based terrorism last summer realize that the perpetuation of Hamas rule there is a threat to more than the Jewish state. So long as an Islamist terror group has a secure base next to both Egypt and Israel and is getting aid from Iran, it is reasonable to assume that it will be undermining the security of both of those states as well as the rest of the region.

Rather than seeking to loosen up the blockade of Gaza that Israel and Egypt have been enforcing to limit Hamas’s ability to project terror abroad, perhaps the West should understand that pressure on the Islamist state needs to be heightened not diminished.

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Why Flotillas Sail to Gaza, Not Syria

Today, the latest publicity stunt by pro-Palestinian activists ended harmlessly as the Israel Navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Gaza that was attempting to break the blockade of the strip in order to draw attention to what is passengers claim is a humanitarian crisis. But, like previous Gaza flotillas, the effort has little to do with the plight of the people of Gaza and everything to do with the long war being waged to end Israel’s existence. More to the point, the continued focus on Gaza by those calling themselves advocates for human rights at the very moment that a genuine human catastrophe is occurring inside Syria without much of response from the international community tells us all we need to know about the hypocrisy of Israel-bashers.

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Today, the latest publicity stunt by pro-Palestinian activists ended harmlessly as the Israel Navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Gaza that was attempting to break the blockade of the strip in order to draw attention to what is passengers claim is a humanitarian crisis. But, like previous Gaza flotillas, the effort has little to do with the plight of the people of Gaza and everything to do with the long war being waged to end Israel’s existence. More to the point, the continued focus on Gaza by those calling themselves advocates for human rights at the very moment that a genuine human catastrophe is occurring inside Syria without much of response from the international community tells us all we need to know about the hypocrisy of Israel-bashers.

The fact that it was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who today pointed out the fact that flotillas aren’t sailing to Syria doesn’t make it any less valid. Hundreds of Syrians have been slaughtered by the Assad regime that is backed by Iran and Hezbollah terrorists with more being killed by its tacit ISIS allies. The carnage has created millions of refugees who are living in squalor inside the country or in camps in neighboring Jordan.

But as Netanyahu knows, there will be no peace activist flotilla to Syria to bring aid to people who really need it. Nor had those on the Swedish-registered Marianne that was diverted by the Israelis gotten lost on their way to help those truly in need. Instead, they were on the way to try and help the Hamas government of Gaza that has been rightly isolated by the international community since the bloody 2007 coup when the Islamist group seized power.

While the situation in Gaza isn’t pleasant, the popular notion of a humanitarian crisis there is a myth. That’s because there is no shortage of food or medicine in the strip since Israel allows daily convoys of such supplies into Gaza every day, including those when Hamas is shooting rockets over the border at cities and towns inside the Jewish state. It is true that there is a shortage of building materials inside Gaza. Given the scale of the destruction wrought by the war Hamas launched against Israel last year, that’s a problem. But the reason why such materials can’t be brought into the strip without restrictions was revealed anew when Hamas showcased a new terror tunnel that it claims reaches into Israel on Iranian TV on Sunday. Most of the concrete that is brought into Gaza is being used for such tunnels or for the construction of elaborate fortifications that will enable Hamas to shield its arsenal and other structures intended to make it harder for Israel to repress rocket fire aimed at civilians.

If Gaza is a mess, it is not because both Israel and Egypt understand that Hamas terrorism must be quarantined. Rather, it is because the international community stood by indifferently as Hamas transformed the congested strip into a terrorist state that believes it has the right to pursue its war on Israel by any means anytime it sees fit. Hamas not only commits war crimes by engaging in terrorism but by using the population of Gaza as human shields behind which its killers and their armaments find shelter.

Those who want to help Gazans need to think of ways to free them from the despotic control of Hamas, which executes its enemies without mercy and represses every kind of free expression as it enforces its ruthless Islamist ideas on the population. The independent Palestinian state in all but name that they govern is an experiment in tyranny that is particularly cruel. Yet somehow those who purport to care about the Palestinians think the real villain is an Israeli government that withdrew every single soldier, settler and settlement in 2005 and simply wishes in vain for quiet along the border.

Activists seek to go to Gaza, however, for one clear reason, and it has nothing to do with humanitarian concerns. Arabs who are engaged in conflicts with other Arabs don’t interest them no matter how many people are killed or how much suffering is caused. Even at the height of the fighting last year when hundreds of Palestinian civilians were unfortunately killed as they were caught in fighting provoked by Hamas, the casualties there were dwarfed by what is going on in Syria. But it is only when Jews are involved in defending their state that the human rights community discovers a crisis.

The double standard this sort of behavior illustrates has nothing to do with good works for a suffering people. It is nothing less than anti-Semitism, since it treats Israeli self-defense as inherently illegitimate and bolsters those who commit atrocities as valid forms of “resistance” against the presence of Jews inside the 1967 lines and not just in the West Bank. Those who seek to aid the efforts of Hamas to wage war on Israel and oppress their own people are not humanitarians. They are anti-Semites.

 

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Which Palestinian State Wants Peace?

In one of those seemingly inexplicable turnarounds that make the Middle East so confusing to naïve Westerners, it appears that, at least for the moment, Hamas is more interested in peace with Israel than is the Palestinian Authority. Of course, Hamas doesn’t actually want to accept Israel’s existence or end its religious crusade against it. The rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have apparently sent out feelers to Israel about strengthening the cease-fire that has held since the end of last summer’s war. The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of his Fatah Party are aghast about this and have folded their unity government with Hamas out of fear that the Islamist group will continue to gain ground in the West Bank. The juxtaposition of these two stories raises some issues about Israel’s dealings with both Hamas and the PA. But it also poses an important question to those who have been agitating for international recognition of a Palestinian state and urging boycotts of Israel: which Palestinian state do you support and what do either have to do with the quest for peace in the Middle East?

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In one of those seemingly inexplicable turnarounds that make the Middle East so confusing to naïve Westerners, it appears that, at least for the moment, Hamas is more interested in peace with Israel than is the Palestinian Authority. Of course, Hamas doesn’t actually want to accept Israel’s existence or end its religious crusade against it. The rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have apparently sent out feelers to Israel about strengthening the cease-fire that has held since the end of last summer’s war. The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of his Fatah Party are aghast about this and have folded their unity government with Hamas out of fear that the Islamist group will continue to gain ground in the West Bank. The juxtaposition of these two stories raises some issues about Israel’s dealings with both Hamas and the PA. But it also poses an important question to those who have been agitating for international recognition of a Palestinian state and urging boycotts of Israel: which Palestinian state do you support and what do either have to do with the quest for peace in the Middle East?

Israel’s willingness to engage in back channel talks with Hamas about ensuring the stability of the cease-fire will be cited by some as a reason for the U.S. to recognize or at least talk to the Islamist group. There is a certain superficial logic to the charge that supporters of Israel are being hypocritical when they call for Hamas’s isolation while the Israelis deal with them at least on some level. But the argument holds no water since Israel isn’t recognizing Hamas’s right to rule Gaza any more than the Islamists are prepared to accept Israel as a legitimate state even inside the 1967 lines. All that is happening in these indirect talks is that both parties are hoping to ensure that there is no rerun of the war Hamas launched last summer.

Israel’s government understands that it has no good options with respect to Gaza. The price of taking out Hamas would be too high both in terms of international condemnation and Israeli casualties. So the next best option is to maintain the relative quiet that has existed since the counter-offensive stopped Hamas’s firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities as well as the use of tunnels to conduct terror attacks on border communities.

One might think the PA would applaud the continuation of the cease-fire since another round of fighting would lead to more casualties and devastation among the Palestinians in Gaza. Abbas still pretends to be the president of Gaza even though Fatah was thrown out of the strip in a 2007 coup. But his main worry is that his tyrannical grip on the West Bank is threatened by Hamas’s popularity. Abbas’s concerns about the cease-fire are to some extent counter-intuitive since the cheers for Hamas have always been the result of its willingness to spill Jewish blood while Fatah talks with Israel. But Abbas is clearly worried that a long-term cease-fire would strengthen a bankrupt Hamas regime. If such an agreement were to be made it might also improve the situation inside Gaza and lead to more rebuilding of homes in addition to the resources being expended on reconstruction of Hamas’s arsenal and fortifications. That in turn might lower the pressure on Israel to make concessions to Abbas in peace talks even though the PA has shown no interest in returning to the table since it blew up the last round of negotiations by signing a unity pact with Hamas.

While this seems confusing, the explanation for these maneuvers is easy to understand. Fatah and Hamas not only have different short-term goals. Hamas wants to hold onto Gaza. Fatah wants the West to recognize the PA as an independent state without first forcing it to make peace with Israel. Neither Hamas nor Fatah is interested or even capable of making a permanent peace with Israel, but each want the Jewish state to tolerate their continued rule even if both groups are corrupt, oppressive, and uninterested in improving the lives of the Palestinian people.

But since it isn’t possible for Israel to do away with either the PA or Hamas without paying an unacceptable price, the Netanyahu government must play the hand it is dealt. That means continuing to try and work with the PA on security cooperation (which is in Abbas’s interests as much as if not more than Israel’s) while hoping that eventually the political culture of the Palestinians will change enough to allow compromise and peace to become possible. As for Hamas, Israel must hope that eventually the people of Gaza (perhaps aided by neighboring Egypt, which sees Hamas as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that threatens their security) will eventually rid themselves of their Islamist tyrants. Until they do, Israel must seek to restrain these terrorists either through military action or deterrence that can produce a long-term cease-fire.

Rather than seeking to force Israel to make concessions to a PA that still won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn, the Obama administration should back Israel’s efforts to keep the cease-fire. And it should finally stop coddling the PA and start holding it accountable for obstruction of peace talks.

Just as important, those advocating unilateral recognition for Palestinian statehood need to draw some conclusions from these events. There are already two rival Palestinian entities that pretend to sovereignty but neither is truly representative or the least bit interested in ending the conflict. Indeed, the PA that is held out by the Obama administration as a champion of peace turns out to be even less enthusiastic about avoiding bloodshed than Hamas. If you are advocating a Palestinian state now without peace with Israel, the question remains which one do you want: a corrupt kleptocracy that is still incapable of making peace because of ideology and its fear of being outflanked by Islamists or a corrupt Islamist terrorist tyranny? For the foreseeable future, those are your only choices.

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The Pointless Battle of the Gaza War Reports

It’s not likely that many of Israel’s critics will pay much attention to the report issued on Sunday by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about last summer’s war in Gaza. Nor will they take notice of a separate report compiled by a multinational group of retired generals and admirals on the conflict that was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week. Both of these reports say the Israel Defense Forces acted in a largely exemplary fashion during the 50 days of conflict. They conclude that charges of war crimes against the Israelis are false and that the primary responsibility for the entire conflict and the toll of civilian casualties belongs to the Hamas terrorists who started the Gaza war and used the population in the strip as human shields. Instead, Israel-bashers will wait for the report of the UNHRC, which is likely to condemn the IDF. But the problem here goes deeper than dueling reports from two parties — Israel and the HRC — whose bias is not in doubt. The battle over the reports provides a microcosm of the entire conflict precisely because the facts are irrelevant to the debate. It doesn’t matter how much care the IDF takes to avoid hurting noncombatants. If, like the HRC and other Israel-haters, you don’t think the Jewish state has a right to exist or to defend itself, everything it does is illegitimate. By the same token, it doesn’t matter how culpable Hamas is, their crimes are always going to be rationalized or even justified by those determined to smear Israel.

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It’s not likely that many of Israel’s critics will pay much attention to the report issued on Sunday by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about last summer’s war in Gaza. Nor will they take notice of a separate report compiled by a multinational group of retired generals and admirals on the conflict that was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week. Both of these reports say the Israel Defense Forces acted in a largely exemplary fashion during the 50 days of conflict. They conclude that charges of war crimes against the Israelis are false and that the primary responsibility for the entire conflict and the toll of civilian casualties belongs to the Hamas terrorists who started the Gaza war and used the population in the strip as human shields. Instead, Israel-bashers will wait for the report of the UNHRC, which is likely to condemn the IDF. But the problem here goes deeper than dueling reports from two parties — Israel and the HRC — whose bias is not in doubt. The battle over the reports provides a microcosm of the entire conflict precisely because the facts are irrelevant to the debate. It doesn’t matter how much care the IDF takes to avoid hurting noncombatants. If, like the HRC and other Israel-haters, you don’t think the Jewish state has a right to exist or to defend itself, everything it does is illegitimate. By the same token, it doesn’t matter how culpable Hamas is, their crimes are always going to be rationalized or even justified by those determined to smear Israel.

The MFA report, like that of the group of foreign military leaders, examined the conflict soberly and admitted that, as in every war, there were plenty of mistakes made in the heat of battle. Though the rules of engagement for allowing a strike on a specific target in Gaza involved a formidable list of assurances that civilians were not put at risk, there are always going to be instances in which circumstances change in the short period between authorization of firing and when the shells land. Moreover, it is not always possible to distinguish between armed combatants and civilians when Hamas fighters are doing everything possible to blend in with their human shields. That is why, contrary to Hamas propaganda mimicked by much of the international press, sought to deny that nearly half of the Palestinians killed were actually terrorist personnel. Sometimes those who are warned to leave areas about to come under attack don’t do so (often at the demands of Hamas). Sometimes fire is inaccurate. But despite the attempt of Israel-haters to portray the IDF as bloodthirsty, even those incidents that were clearly errors cannot be said to be the result of deliberate action. Sometimes soldiers just make a mistake, as happens in every war in history.

It should be remembered that General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last year that the conduct of the IDF was a model for Americans forces to follow in their own fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. As these reports make clear, there isn’t a military in the world that is forced to observe such restrictive rules of engagement when fighting terrorists.

Nor should it be forgotten that the context of the Gaza war is not one in which Israel launched an unprovoked attack on innocents. To the contrary, the chain of events that led to war began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by a Hamas cell. The Hamas rulers of Gaza then escalated the conflict by firing thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and towns. They also attempted to use terror tunnels dug under the international border between Israel and Gaza to kidnap and murder other Israeli civilians.

Hamas runs what is for all intents and purposes an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza. But its conduct in the war consisted of acts of terrorism as well as war crimes against its own people because of its decision to launch missiles and conduct attacks against Israelis in the vicinity of civilians. Its leadership hid in secure bunkers under hospitals that Israel did not attack. Though, unlike Israelis, the people of Gaza had few places to which they could flee for safety, there were plenty of shelters in the strip. But those shelters were for Hamas’s bombs and fighters, not ordinary Palestinians.

The reports from the ministry and the generals contain plenty of important information and they should be read. But like the expected attack on Israel from the HRC (which devotes a vastly disproportionate amount of its time on Israel while ignoring real human rights tragedies elsewhere), they are almost beside the point.

As the Times of Israel rightly points out, the purpose of the Israeli report may in part be to head off a specious investigation of the war by the International Criminal Court (though Hamas would more to fear from a fair inquiry than Israel).

But those legal details are unfortunately not going to influence the battle for international opinion. The plain fact is that those who think Hamas has the right to shoot at Israeli civilians and consider it bad form that the Jewish state takes so much trouble to protect its people actually aren’t interested in the facts about the fighting. It doesn’t matter to them that no other country in the world would seek to stop attacks on its cities with the degree of care that Israel demonstrates. Nor does it matter that the point of Hamas’s “resistance” is not to adjust the border in the West Bank but to destroy Israel.

By any rational standard, Israel’s effort to stop Hamas missile fire and tunnels was a just war. But if you think Israelis deserve to be killed simply because they are Israelis and that the Jews are the one people in the world not entitled to a state or its defense, then it doesn’t matter how hard the IDF tries to save Palestinian lives. Such bias has a name and it applies to those who hold such views whether they are Arabs or Jews: anti-Semitism. That and not the details of the reports about Gaza is what will continue to drive the debate about the war.

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Gaza is Broke But Still Preparing for War

If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, some people in Gaza are fed up with what passes for a government in the strip. The decision of the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name to impose new taxes on their beleaguered subjects was not received with much pleasure. It turns out the levies are required for the Islamist group to pay their 40,000 employees. Though food, medicine and other supplies are shipped into Gaza every day by Israel, a fact that debunks claims of a humanitarian crisis, there’s no question that times are hard for the people who live there. But the cash shortage in Gaza hasn’t changed Hamas’s priorities. One of their main complaints is that a shortage of construction materials caused by Israel has made reconstruction of homes destroyed in last summer’s war impossible. But that hasn’t stopped Hamas from building a new road near the border with Israel in order to facilitate future terror attacks.

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If you believe the reporting of the New York Times, some people in Gaza are fed up with what passes for a government in the strip. The decision of the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza as an independent Palestinian state in all but name to impose new taxes on their beleaguered subjects was not received with much pleasure. It turns out the levies are required for the Islamist group to pay their 40,000 employees. Though food, medicine and other supplies are shipped into Gaza every day by Israel, a fact that debunks claims of a humanitarian crisis, there’s no question that times are hard for the people who live there. But the cash shortage in Gaza hasn’t changed Hamas’s priorities. One of their main complaints is that a shortage of construction materials caused by Israel has made reconstruction of homes destroyed in last summer’s war impossible. But that hasn’t stopped Hamas from building a new road near the border with Israel in order to facilitate future terror attacks.

The construction is going on directly across the border from Nahal Oz, the Israeli kibbutz that was the target of Hamas terror tunnels during last summer’s war. While there have been steady reports of Iran helping to fund Hamas efforts to rebuild both the tunnels and the Islamists’ fortified strongholds inside the strip, a Hamas official actually said over the weekend that the purpose of the work being done on the Palestinian side of the border was “to create for ourselves convenient opportunities to attack the Zionist enemy.”

Hamas lost its main source of income when Egypt shut down the smuggling tunnels through which it brought in construction materials, luxury items as well as arms and cash to operate. Moreover, much of the money that comes into the strip is from the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank but which also pays 70,000 no show employees in Gaza. The inability to square that expenditure with the funds used for Hamas’ largely duplicate force of civil servants was one of the sticking points in the implementation of last year’s Fatah–Hamas unity agreement.

But the juxtaposition of the heartrending Times story about shortages in Gaza with other reports detailing Hamas’s preparations for another terror war should alarm those who purport to care about the plight of the people of the strip. With discontent rising against their rule (in contrast to their popularity in the West Bank, whose people suffer under a different group of tyrants but which didn’t pay the cost of last summer’s pointless fighting), the possibility of another outbreak this summer must be consider possible if not probable. Focusing Palestinians on hatred of Israel is a convenient way of distracting them from the corruption and misplaced priorities of an Islamist ruling group that is willing to fight to the last civilian in order to continue its war on Zionism.

As broke and as isolated as they may be, Hamas still thinks it won the war for international public opinion because so many Palestinians died or were made homeless by Israeli efforts to stop the firing of thousands of rockets on its cities and towns. Moreover, the message they have gotten since last summer from the United States is that the Obama administration is doing its best to put daylight between Washington and Jerusalem. That’s a standing invitation for Israel’s foes to attack because they assume the Israelis will be left to face them alone.

It is imperative for the Obama administration to speak clearly now that if, motivated by the need to distract their subjects and subsidized by Iran as well the fact that they are beset by inroads recently made by ISIS in Gaza, Hamas feels like having another go at the Israelis, the United States won’t shut down the resupply of arms and ammunition as it did during last summer’s war. Just as important, the U.S. and all those who claim to worry about the situation in Gaza must denounce the use of aid materials for war preparations. Though the plight of Gaza is a rallying cry for Israel’s critics, the reality of life there illustrates the toxic nature of a Palestinian political culture that prizes hostility to the Jews over bettering the lives of Arabs. Gaza’s friends should demand an end to the rule of Hamas. Until that happens, there’s not much hope for the hapless people who must live under their rule, and another Gaza Strip war looms large.

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Amnesty’s Reports on Hamas Refute Its Allegations Against Israel

Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

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Over the past two months, Amnesty International has quietly confirmed nearly all of Israel’s main claims about Hamas’s conduct during last summer’s war in Gaza. Yet the organization still lacks the intellectual honesty to admit that its findings about Hamas completely undercut its main allegations against Israel – made vociferously both at the time and in a series of reports last fall and winter.

Amnesty turned its attention to Hamas only after months of reporting on alleged Israeli crimes. First came a March report on Hamas’s rocket fire, then one this week on its extrajudicial killings of alleged collaborators. Each undercuts a key claim against Israel.

The most interesting finding in the March report was that Hamas’s rockets killed more civilians in Gaza than they did in Israel. Altogether, Amnesty said, the rockets killed six Israeli civilians and “at least” 13 Palestinian civilians. Where did the latter figure come from? From a single misfired rocket that killed 13 civilians in the Al-Shati refugee camp. In other words, Amnesty didn’t bother checking to see whether other Hamas rockets also killed civilians; it simply cited the one case it couldn’t possibly ignore, because it was reported in real time by a foreign journalist at the scene.

But according to Israel Defense Forces figures, roughly 550 rockets and mortars fired at Israel fell short and landed in Gaza, including 119 that hit urban areas. And it defies belief to think those other 549 rockets and mortars produced no casualties.

After all, unlike Israel, Gaza has no civil defense system whatsoever. A 2014 study found that Israel’s civil defense measures reduced casualties from the rocket fire on sparsely populated southern Israel by a whopping 86%. But Gaza has no Iron Dome to intercept missiles, no warning sirens to alert civilians to incoming rockets, and no bomb shelters for civilians to run to even if they were warned. Thus in densely populated Gaza, with no civil defense measures, those misfired rockets would almost certainly have killed at least dozens, and quite possibly hundreds, of civilians.

One of the main claims against Israel made by Amnesty and other human rights groups is that it caused excessive civilian casualties. Most such groups simply parrot the UN claim (which came straight from Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry) that 67% of the 2,200 casualties were civilians; Israel has consistently said the civilian-to-combatant kill ratio was roughly 1:1. While there are many reasons to think the Israeli figure is closer to the truth, even the UN/Palestinian ratio of 2:1 would be drastically lower than the international norm of 3:1.

But once you acknowledge that some portion of those civilian casualties was actually caused by misfired Hamas rockets rather than Israeli strikes, then the claim of excessive civilian casualties becomes even more untenable. Indeed, it means the civilian-to-combatant fatality ratio from Israeli strikes was likely even below 1:1.

Then there’s Amnesty’s report this week on Hamas’s extrajudicial executions. Its most interesting finding, as Elhanan Miller reported in the Times of Israel, is that “Hamas used abandoned sections of Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, ‘to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center.’”

That goes to the heart of the other main allegation against Israel made by Amnesty and its fellows: that Israel repeatedly targeted civilian buildings rather sticking to military targets. Israel countered that these “civilian” buildings doubled as military facilities – weapons storehouses, command and control centers, etc. – and were, therefore, legitimate military targets, but human rights groups pooh-poohed that claim.

Now, however, Amnesty has admitted that Hamas used Gaza’s main hospital as a detention, interrogation and torture center. And if Hamas was misusing a hospital in this way, it defies belief to think it wasn’t similarly misusing other civilian buildings for military purposes. Once you admit that Hamas did so once, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t do so again. And, in that case, the allegation that Israel wantonly attacked civilian structures also collapses.

Thus in its reports on Hamas, Amnesty has effectively demolished its two main allegations against Israel. And if it had a shred of honor and decency left, it would admit it. But, needless to say, I’m not holding my breath.

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‘Palestine’ is a Civil War Waiting to Happen

As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. Because “Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

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As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. Because “Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

Just last week, for instance, Hamas blamed Fatah for a series of recent bombings in Gaza and arrested 12 Fatah members as suspects. Last November, Hamas reportedly bombed the homes and vehicles of several senior Fatah officials in Gaza, as well as the site of a planned Fatah rally to mark the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death; as a result, Fatah canceled both the rally and a planned visit to Gaza by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Last month, PA ministers who did visit Gaza left in a huff after Hamas placed them under house arrest in their hotel. The previous month, Abbas and one of his senior advisors separately urged Arab states to bomb Hamas out of Gaza.

Both sides routinely arrest each other’s members, and then accuse each other of torturing the detainees (usually accurately in both cases). Both also routinely accuse each other of collaborating with Israel – the worst crime in the Palestinian lexicon. Needless to say, none of this contributes to Hamas-Fatah brotherly love.

Indeed, the parties are so busy feuding with each other that they can’t provide for their people’s most basic needs, like reconstructing Gaza after last summer’s war with Israel. The reconstruction has made almost no progress in the eight months since the war ended, and astoundingly, everyone except Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth agrees that this is the fault of the feuding Palestinian governments rather than Israel. That, for instance, is the stated view of the Arab League, which is usually quick to blame Israel for anything. And it’s also the stated view of the European Union, which is generally equally quick to blame Israel for everything.

That the violence has remained relatively low-level despite the intensity of this hatred is due to one thing only: Israel. Hamas’s main fighting strength is concentrated in Gaza, while Fatah’s is concentrated in the West Bank, and these territories are currently separated by an impassible barrier – some 37 kilometers of Israeli territory. Moreover, Israeli troops in the West Bank have prevented Hamas from building up its forces there: Last August, for instance, Israel arrested dozens of Hamas operatives in the West Bank whom both Israel and Abbas said were plotting a coup against the Fatah-led government.

But both those barriers to war would disappear if the world had its way: Israeli troops would vacate the West Bank, and some kind of corridor through Israel would be created to link the West Bank to Gaza. At that point, there would be nothing to stop Hamas and Fatah from all-out war. Indeed, that’s precisely what happened after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005: Months of escalating violence ultimately erupted into war.

That war was bloody but swift. One week later, Hamas-ruled Gaza, 600 Palestinians were dead and thousands more had fled to the West Bank (Israel allowed the refugees through its territory). But since then, both sides have built up their forces considerably, so the next war might well be longer and bloodier. And I have yet to hear anyone explain quite how enabling such a war would benefit the Palestinians.

Thus anyone who really wants to create a Palestinian state should start by pressuring both Hamas and Fatah to address basic needs like reconstructing Gaza instead of spending all their time and energy feuding. That way, if and when such a state does emerge, it might actually be a good thing for the people who have to live in it rather than a disaster. And it would surely do far more to help the Palestinians right now than the empty recognition of a nonexistent state does.

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Hamas Victory Explains Israel’s Stand

In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory, Israel is once again being urged to go back to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make concessions that will grant it independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Most of those calling for Netanyahu to implement a two-state solution ignore the fact that the Palestinians already have functional independence in Gaza because to do so would be to admit that the Hamas-run independent state that exists there in all but name is the true face of Palestinian nationalism. But, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the notion that it’s the alleged moderates of Fatah that run the PA in the West Bank rather than Hamas that has the support of most Palestinians was given the lie again by a much-watched student election at Bir Zeit University. The victory of the Hamas slate in the student election held there last month illustrates that any concessions forced on Israel in the West Bank might soon lead to another Hamas government there.

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In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory, Israel is once again being urged to go back to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make concessions that will grant it independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Most of those calling for Netanyahu to implement a two-state solution ignore the fact that the Palestinians already have functional independence in Gaza because to do so would be to admit that the Hamas-run independent state that exists there in all but name is the true face of Palestinian nationalism. But, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the notion that it’s the alleged moderates of Fatah that run the PA in the West Bank rather than Hamas that has the support of most Palestinians was given the lie again by a much-watched student election at Bir Zeit University. The victory of the Hamas slate in the student election held there last month illustrates that any concessions forced on Israel in the West Bank might soon lead to another Hamas government there.

The Times story is rich with irony since it leads with the tale of how a young Palestinian woman who was considered to be immodestly dressed became the poster girl for Hamas supporters. The point was, even those Palestinians whose behavior would mark them down for persecution by the Islamist movement should it ever get the same kind of control over the West Bank that it currently has in Gaza were standing up to back them.

The Bir Zeit election may be dismissed as meaningless but in a Palestinian political world where elections are few and far between (PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is currently serving the tenth year of the four-year-term as president to which he was elected in 2005), it is the moral equivalent to the quadrennial Iowa Straw poll.

That Hamas doesn’t allow the same kind of student elections in Gaza or any free expression of any kind makes the student campaign for them seem counterintuitive. But anyone who thought Palestinian politics is about logic hasn’t been paying attention to the last century of history. While Hamas appears to have run a better campaign on the campus, the real reason that it prevailed was the impression that it was fighting Israel while Fatah was not. Even if most Palestinians don’t want to live in an Islamist state such as the repressive tyranny that exists in Gaza, Hamas’ popularity hasn’t suffered as a result of the disastrous war they started last summer. To the contrary, even secular West Bank Palestinians seem to prefer a party committed to war against Israel to a Fatah leadership that waffles between a stand in favor of negotiations and making it clear that they will never agree to any deal.

The problem here is that there’s more here at play than political symbolism. There’s a reason why Abbas hasn’t allowed another election since he was first to put into office to succeed Yasir Arafat. He knows that if given a choice there’s every reason to think Palestinians might choose Hamas even though it is and would be a disaster for them. Even if they know that Gaza’s problems are the result of the Hamas takeover and that life there is awful because of the Islamist group’s rule, its stand in favor of endless war remains popular. Indeed, West Bank Palestinians who were not cynically used as human shields by the terrorists last summer may be more inclined to back Hamas than Fatah.

Of course, Abbas doesn’t make himself or his party more popular by engaging in his own brand of tyranny. Hamas supporters on Bir Zeit were arrested after their successful election campaign. Fatah’s corruption is another reason why Palestinians resent them but unlike in the past, Hamas’s track record in Gaza makes it difficult to argue that there is a rationale for the Islamist group based on an expectation of good government.

Some will claim that the unpopularity of Fatah and the belief in Hamas’s war strategy is Israel’s fault because it refuses to make peace and give the Palestinians a state. But this ignores the fact that Fatah has repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and independence in almost of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Even the so-called moderates refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The dynamic of Palestinian politics has always given an advantage to any group that prioritized violence. Until a sea change in their culture occurs to change that, the peace process will be permanently stalled.

Israel withdrew every solider, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and got more terror instead of peace. If it were to repeat the experiment in the West Bank as its foreign critics urge, the consequences would be incalculable. Even if Fatah were to remain in power, giving them sovereignty would place Israel’s security in jeopardy. If the West Bank were soon to fall into Hamas’s hands, it would mean a war that would make last summer’s fighting in Gaza look like a picnic.

Rather than an advertisement for Hamas’s appeal or even Fatah’s unpopularity, the Bir Zeit election is a warning to Israel of what might happen in the West Bank should it succumb to pressure and withdraw. Most Israelis may see a two state solution as the best option but not under the current circumstances. President Obama’s wishes notwithstanding, that’s something that no Israeli government will think of doing.

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Obama’s Double Standard on Civilian Casualties

I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

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I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

We don’t yet know what happened in Syria, but the drone strike on an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan is instructive. Administration officials told the New York Times that the CIA had “no idea that the hostages were being held there despite hundreds of hours of surveillance.” Yet they apparently can’t conceive of Israel — in the midst of a shooting war where decisions on whether to return fire must be made instantly, rather than with the benefit of hundreds of hours of surveillance — being similarly unaware that civilians were present at various sites it targeted during last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Needless to say, American military professionals don’t share the administration’s view. The day after the White House announced the hostages’ deaths; Michael Schmitt and John Merriam published a summary of their detailed investigation into Israel’s targeting practices during that war. Schmitt, a professor of international law, heads the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College and is considered a leading expert on the laws of armed conflict (LOAC). Merriam is a U.S. Army Judge Advocate and associate director of the Stockton Center. They were given unusual access to information, like targeting procedures that the Israel Defense Forces usually keeps secret; they were also allowed to observe IDF targeting cells at work and examine combat footage that hasn’t been publicly released. And here’s their conclusion:

Broadly speaking, we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military. Moreover, even when they differ, the Israeli approach remains within the ambit of generally acceptable State practice … we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation.

They also pointed out that “the nuances of the Israeli approach … can only be understood in the context of the specific operational and strategic environment in which the IDF must fight.” And the complexities of that environment, which Israel’s critics largely ignore, go beyond such simple facts as Hamas’s penchant for launching rockets from civilian homes.

For instance, one key principle of LOAC is proportionality, meaning that an attack is illegal if the anticipated harm to civilians is disproportionate to the anticipated military benefit. But for a country that routinely trades hundreds of terrorists – who then resume killing Israelis – for a single captured soldier, the anticipated military benefit of preventing a soldier from being captured may be much higher than it would be for countries that don’t routinely make such trades, Schmitt and Merriam noted.

Yet the professionals’ view – also voiced by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey last November – never mattered to their civilian superiors. Even a Pentagon spokesman joined the administration pile-on accusing Israel of callous disregard for civilian life, declaring in a news briefing last July that “the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards … for protecting civilian life.”

I don’t expect anything of people who think U.S. drone strikes are no less evil than Israel’s actions in Gaza. But the Obama Administration routinely defends its own civilian casualties as honest mistakes that occurred despite the strictest precautions. And to do that while simultaneously insisting that Israel’s can’t possibly be the same is the height of hypocrisy.

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Hamas Atrocities and the Rules of War

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

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Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

The UN report gave Israel credit for the fact that incidents in which the Israel Defense Forces’ fire was deemed to be unjustified or wrongful due to the impact on civilians resulted in investigations and/or prosecutions of those involved. But it what failed to grasp was that two factors undermined most of the criticisms of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. One is that widespread infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas personnel who use UN facilities as storage depots. The other is the fact that the Hamas government of Gaza systematically exploits civilian buildings that are treated as off limits to Israeli fire for military purposes.

As Gantz detailed, it was well known, even during the war, that the Hamas leaders who were directing the rocket attacks on Israel were doing from the safety of hospital buildings. It was also clear throughout the campaign that Hamas was firing the thousands of rockets that were shot at Israeli cities from the immediate environs of shelters, schools and hospitals.

The IDF did its best to avoid hitting civilian targets and though there were casualties, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey later noted that the conduct of the Israelis was exemplary, undermining much of the unfair criticisms of the war put forward by both the Obama White House and the State Department. But while the Israelis were subjected to a double standard not applied to any other modern combatant, it’s worth asking whether we need to think again about a code of military conduct that says a sovereign nation is obligated to let terrorists shoot at children so long as they are around a building that is designated as off-limits.

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture these terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name knows that operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA — which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use them as props in the war against Israel — to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews.

Gantz doesn’t seem to have any ready answers as to how rules of engagement for the military or those of war can be adjusted to account for Hamas. Ethicists can debate the obligation to avoid causing deaths to civilians against the one that declares that governments must defend their citizens. But the problem here goes deeper than a mere moral dilemma. So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians that were made homeless or wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Gantz is probably right when he says the inevitable next round of fighting with Hamas will be worse than the last one. So, too will the condemnations of Israeli self-defense. Each incident will probably be used to justify economic warfare via the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against the Jewish state. You can count on Israel continuing to uphold high standards of conduct in which every effort will be made to spare innocent lives. But so long as terrorists are using UN buildings as launching pads for attacks on Jewish children, the IDF will have no choice but to shoot back. If that generates more UN reports and unfair criticism, so be it. No rule that gives a terrorist impunity to shoot at children should be treated as sacrosanct.

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Two Demonstrations and the Problem with Two States

Yesterday, a small left-wing fringe group organized demonstrations in three Israeli cities to protest the ongoing blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. In Jerusalem, the protest brought out a few dozen persons in front of the prime minister’s residence where they freely paraded with signs and apparently held forth in front of a rapt press corps eager, as always, to find Jews willing to criticize their country’s government. No one interfered with them and when they were done spouting off about the supposed injustices being done to a terrorist government that had rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities and used tunnels to try and conduct murder raids on civilians, they went home having encountered no interference from Israeli authorities. But a group in Gaza that tried to hold a protest earlier that day about the Hamas regime’s lack of interest in rebuilding the strip after the war they launched last summer wasn’t so lucky. And therein hangs a tale of why the push for a two-state solution that remains a priority of the Obama administration is based more on fantasy than reality.

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Yesterday, a small left-wing fringe group organized demonstrations in three Israeli cities to protest the ongoing blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. In Jerusalem, the protest brought out a few dozen persons in front of the prime minister’s residence where they freely paraded with signs and apparently held forth in front of a rapt press corps eager, as always, to find Jews willing to criticize their country’s government. No one interfered with them and when they were done spouting off about the supposed injustices being done to a terrorist government that had rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities and used tunnels to try and conduct murder raids on civilians, they went home having encountered no interference from Israeli authorities. But a group in Gaza that tried to hold a protest earlier that day about the Hamas regime’s lack of interest in rebuilding the strip after the war they launched last summer wasn’t so lucky. And therein hangs a tale of why the push for a two-state solution that remains a priority of the Obama administration is based more on fantasy than reality.

The Gaza demonstration involved 400 persons and took place in a neighborhood that was destroyed in last summer’s fighting. Its purpose appeared to be to promote more reconstruction of homes in the strip as well as to call for the ever-elusive Palestinian unity at a time when Gaza is ruled by Hamas while the West Bank remains under the thumb of Fatah. It also must be understood in the context of what’s been going on in Gaza as Hamas has been reportedly rapidly rebuilding their terror tunnel infrastructure on the border with Israel while also replenishing their rocket arsenal. Both of these endeavors are being conducted with the material and financial help of Iran and are clearly the priority of the Gaza government over the rebuilding of homes wrecked in Hamas’s unnecessary war.

But rather than merely let the 400 demonstrators have their say, Hamas acted in characteristic fashion for a tyrannical terrorist regime and brutally suppressed the protest. Hamas police entered the crowd and severely beat several demonstrators while arresting others in the guise of keeping the peace.

What have these two events to do with the two-state solution, support for which U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said today was the measure of the next Israeli government? Everything.

The point isn’t just that Israel is a working democracy where the views of even a splinter group that seemed to sympathize with a terrorist government in Gaza was allowed to protest in front of the prime minister’s house while Hamas runs a police state. It’s that the government in Gaza is for all intents and purposes the independent Palestinian state that President Obama and his administration continue to advocate as necessary to peace. But far from being a force for peace, the Iran-funded Hamasistan in Gaza was and remains a permanent threat to peace. More than that, and just like the actions of the supposedly more moderate Fatah in Gaza, the Hamas government is an undemocratic and brutal regime determined not only to suppress dissidents but to treat the welfare of ordinary Palestinians as being less important than their mission of fomenting an endless war against Israel. Nor should it be forgotten that the purpose of that war isn’t to speed an Israeli retreat from the West Bank but to “liberate” all of “occupied Palestine,” a term by which they mean pre-1967 Israel as well as the disputed territories beyond the “green line.”

Additionally, this Hamas-run Palestinian state was created by Israel taking a risk for peace when it removed every single soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. But rather than this becoming a step toward peace, what Israelis soon learned was that former Prime Minister Sharon had traded land for terror, not peace.

These parallel demonstrations are a reminder of the contrast between the conduct of a free society, even though it remains under siege from foreign foes, and a terrorist state. But they also illustrate the absurdity of a call to repeat the Gaza experiment in the West Bank. A two state solution might be ideal but not under the current circumstances. That Obama continues to expect Israel to do such a mad thing speaks volumes about his lack of concern for the Jewish state’s security as well as of his poor grasp of the realities of the Middle East even after more than six years in the White House.

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Gaza Casualties? Fault Hamas and UNRWA

On Monday the United Nations issued a report about attacks on their facilities in Gaza during last summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. The report’s conclusion was widely reported as finding that the deaths of 44 civilians were the fault of the Israeli military. Strictly speaking that’s true, as there’s little doubt that the casualties at some of their facilities were killed or wounded by Israeli fire. But before the anti-Israel propaganda machine starts cranking up to denounce the Israelis as war criminals—as the Palestinians are preparing to do at the International Criminal Court—a close reading of a document that was prepared by a hostile UN reveals a far more nuanced picture of what happened in Gaza. While some of the shelters in question might have been struck in error in the heat of battle in a confusing environment, even the UN was prepared to admit that many of their institutions in Gaza were being used as arms depots by Hamas and that armed fighters were shooting at Israel in the vicinity of many of the places that were attacked. While Israel’s military can’t be said to be perfect, the real fault for what happened belongs to both the Hamas terrorist overlords of Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that operated the facilities.

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On Monday the United Nations issued a report about attacks on their facilities in Gaza during last summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. The report’s conclusion was widely reported as finding that the deaths of 44 civilians were the fault of the Israeli military. Strictly speaking that’s true, as there’s little doubt that the casualties at some of their facilities were killed or wounded by Israeli fire. But before the anti-Israel propaganda machine starts cranking up to denounce the Israelis as war criminals—as the Palestinians are preparing to do at the International Criminal Court—a close reading of a document that was prepared by a hostile UN reveals a far more nuanced picture of what happened in Gaza. While some of the shelters in question might have been struck in error in the heat of battle in a confusing environment, even the UN was prepared to admit that many of their institutions in Gaza were being used as arms depots by Hamas and that armed fighters were shooting at Israel in the vicinity of many of the places that were attacked. While Israel’s military can’t be said to be perfect, the real fault for what happened belongs to both the Hamas terrorist overlords of Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that operated the facilities.

Using their new perch as a member of UN agencies, it’s likely that the Palestinian Authority will seek to get the International Criminal Court to investigate and indict Israel for war crimes in Gaza. This is a dangerous gambit for the PA because even though the UN body is biased against the Jewish state, the evidence of criminal intent or behavior is lacking. Moreover, there is ample proof of Palestinian war crimes. Indeed, every one of the thousands of Hamas missiles fired at Israeli cities and towns was a crime. As were the attempts by the Islamist group to use tunnels dug underneath the international border between Gaza and Israel to commit acts of murder and kidnapping.

The story told in the UN report is not one of callous Israeli behavior. Rather, even this indictment shows that the Israel Defense Forces sought to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible and didn’t fire indiscriminately.

The problem for those wanting to use this document to bash Israel is that it confirms much of what the Israelis said about the use of UNRWA facilities, and specifically the schools designated as shelters. The report admits that several such schools were used for storing Hamas weaponry. Others were, as Israel insists, used as observation posts for Hamas military action. Many were the sites of firing of rockets at Israel and Israeli forces. While UNRWA sought to deflect blame for the use of their buildings for terrorism, even the UN report notes that their security measures to avoid this were inadequate and the agency needs to take the problem more seriously.

Moreover, the UN also admitted that some instances where firing took place that was not in accord with the strict rules of engagement (that compare favorably with those employed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan) were being subjected to criminal investigation. That is not the act of an army that doesn’t care about killing civilians.

There’s little doubt that a breakdown of each individual incident would be portrayed in a far less negative light in a document prepared by a more neutral party. After all, the UN was largely dependent on UNRWA for the report. But if we were to accept these findings as definitive, what can’t be forgotten is that the only reason there was any firing anywhere near UN facilities is that Hamas routinely used them and other buildings such as schools and hospitals to shield their efforts to shoot at Israelis. The people of Gaza as a whole, and not just those at UN buildings, were used as human shields by the terrorist movement that governs the strip, itself a war crime.

Moreover, UNRWA has a long record of allowing itself to be used by Hamas as it employed their members and showed little interest in preventing its buildings from being used the same way all other schools and humanitarian institutions were employed—as cover for Hamas fighters.

Even more to the point, the reason why Israelis were in Gaza—from which they removed every single soldier and settler in 2005 in a vain attempt to trade land for peace—was because the area has become a terrorist fortress. Gaza is an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a terrible precedent for those who want Israel to withdraw from the West Bank in the same manner.

Hamas continues to view all of Israel within the 1967 lines as “occupied territory” that must be liberated from the Jews. As long as it rules in Gaza and UNRWA is its willing accomplice, there will never be any “place of safety” in the strip or in Israel. That is the nub of the problem, not specific Israeli decisions to fire on areas where terrorists are shooting.

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Iran’s Terrorist Allies the First to Benefit From Nuclear Deal

President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

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President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

The Channel 2 report detailed that Iran has increased its already considerable flow of weapons and cash to its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as to Hamas. Most troubling is the news that it is not satisfied with helping Hamas rebuild its terror tunnels and replenish its rocket arsenal in Gaza but is also seeking to arm cells of the Islamist group operating in the West Bank. Like Russia’s sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, these moves are part of the inevitable exploitation of Western weakness by an Iranian regime that understands that it has scored a huge victory in the nuclear negotiations. This is a trend that will get only more dangerous as their economy begins to recover after the sanctions disappear.

Administration apologists may claim that Iran’s actions can be seen as a warning to Israel not to act on its own against its nuclear infrastructure. But Tehran knows as well as anyone that the chances of Israel launching a strike against them while the U.S. is engaged in negotiations over their nuclear ambitions is virtually nil. A more realistic analysis of these actions would see them for what they are, more evidence of Iran’s desire to extend its control over the entire region via the actions of its terrorist friends. In particular, it is hoping to use its growing influence to support the most radical Palestinian factions in order to make war with Israel more likely. That is the context in which most Israelis see U.S. efforts to create a new détente between Iran and the West.

The Zionist Union document also illustrates that for all of the demonization of Netanyahu that has been pursued by the administration and its liberal media cheering section, even his most bitter rivals largely accept his positions.

Though Labor and its right-wing antagonists have sniped at each other on Iran as they do on all issues, the Zionist Union paper shares the Netanyahu government’s belief that the current agreement is flawed and must be revised. Though the Obama administration claims that there is no alternative to a negotiation in which they have made concession after concession, mainstream Israeli parties all seem to understand that the choice here is not between diplomacy and war but between weakness and strength that might persuade the Iranians that they can’t count on the U.S. folding on every point as it has in the past. As veteran U.S. peace processer Aaron David Miller—who is no fan of Netanyahu—wrote today in the Wall Street Journal, both Israelis and Arabs understand that what the U.S. is pursuing is an Iran-centric policy that prizes good relations with Tehran over those with its traditional allies.

By choosing not to demand that Iran change its behavior toward other nations, give up terrorism, or drop its calls for Israel’s destruction—a reasonable point considering that nuclear capability theoretically could give it the power to effectuate that scenario—the United States has flashed a green light to Iran for further adventurism in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. The president may pretend that the nuclear issue can be separated from other concerns about Iran, but those who must fear its behavior are not so foolish.

Liberal Democrats in Congress who have proved susceptible to administration talking points about Netanyahu and the Likud allying themselves with the Republicans need to take note of the fact that the same party that the White House was trying to help by means both fair and foul (indirect State Department contributions to anti-Netanyahu groups in Israel) takes more or less the same position on the Iran deal as the prime minister. Those who think hostility to Netanyahu should help them choose to override their instincts to back Israel’s position on the Iran deal should think again.

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Iran Funds the Building of New Terror Tunnels for Hamas

President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

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President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

As Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports:

Iran has sent Hamas’s military wing tens of millions of dollars to help it rebuild the network of tunnels in Gaza destroyed by Israel’s invasion last summer, intelligence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph. It is also funding new missile supplies to replenish stocks used to bombard residential neighbourhoods in Israel during the war, code-named Operation Protective Edge by Israel.

Much like the White House’s determination to ignore everything the Iranians have continued to say about eliminating Israel, not to mention its history of violating commitments, this effort isn’t influencing the administration’s determination to press ahead with the nuclear agreement. Everything that might distract us from embracing the possibility that Iran is changing and will use its nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is deemed irrelevant to the issue at hand by the president and his defenders. So no one should think the thought of Iran directly attempting to foment a new war between Israel and Hamas will lessen the president’s enthusiasm for what he clearly believes to be a legacy achievement.

But those who, unlike President Obama, are not already besotted with the notion of détente with Iran should think very seriously about what this means for the future of the Middle East.

Even if the Iranians observe the rather loose limits on their nuclear ambitions and do not cheat their way to a bomb—as they could easily do given their continued possession of their nuclear infrastructure and stockpile—it must be understood that the deal makes their eventual possession of a bomb inevitable once the agreement expires. But even if we are to, as the administration demands, ignore this certainty, we must confront just how much the economic boost the deal will give its economy and the legitimacy it will grant the regime will impact its efforts to spread its influence and sow the seeds of conflict between Arab and Jew as well as Sunni and Shia.

It is one thing to claim, as President Obama does, that he got the best deal with Iran that was possible. On its face, that assertion can sound reasonable even if it is given the lie by the fact that he spent the last two years discarding all of his political and economic leverage over the Islamist regime and making endless concessions that make it a threshold nuclear power. But it is not much of a secret that the president sees his diplomatic efforts as having a larger goal than a technical and rather insubstantial check on the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle in his 2012 reelection campaign.

The ultimate goal of the negotiations is to end the 36 years of strife between Iran and the West that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the theocratic regime to power. After decades of supporting terrorism against the West and threatening Israel’s destruction, the president is laboring under the delusion that what he has done is to open up a chance for a true rapprochement with Iran. That’s the argument some of his cheerleaders like the New York Times’s Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof have been making. They have long campaigned for changing the West’s view of Iran from that of a rigid, tyrannical, aggressive, and anti-Semitic regime to one that Americans can feel comfortable doing business with and embracing. The images of a kind, friendly Iran these writers and others like them have worked so hard to promote is based on the notion that the differences between the countries are just politics. The president’s own assertions about Iran being a “complicated” country that is on some levels no different from the United States echoes these disingenuous claims.

But while Iran has political factions that contend for influence and is populated by many nice people who might want to be kind to visiting Americans, none of this changes the fact that its government and military have very different intentions. The real Iran is not the picture postcard version writers like Cohen and Kristof give us but the cold hard facts of Iranian arms shipments and financial support for terrorists in Gaza and its auxiliaries in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. None of those “complicated” factions disagree about war on Israel or their nuclear goals.

This agreement will not just empower Iran’s nuclear efforts but will strengthen the regime economically in such a way as to make its replacement by more moderate forces unthinkable.

While Americans dream of an entente with exotic Persia, Iran’s leaders are busy preparing the way for violence. The Gaza terror tunnels and missiles are just the tip of the iceberg of Iranian efforts. The American seal of approval that the deal will give will make it easier for them to spread their influence, further isolating and endangering both moderate Arab governments and Israel. That is the cold, hard reality of Iranian power that defenders of this effort to appease Tehran must take into account. Senators pondering whether to vote to give themselves the right to approve the deal should be focused on events in Gaza and Yemen and not just the president’s empty promises about a new era of hope and change in the Middle East.

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The Election that Didn’t Happen Matters Far More than the One that Did

In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

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In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

A veteran Palestinian journalist from Ramallah summed up the prevailing sentiment succinctly. “We say all these bad things about Israel, but at least the people there have the right to vote and enjoy democracy,” he told Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh before the election. “We really envy the Israelis. Our leaders don’t want elections. They want to remain in office forever.”

Ghanem Nuseibeh, an East Jerusalem Palestinian now living in Britain, put out an illuminating series of tweets throughout Election Day, including, “Over a million Arabs take part in Middle East’s most democratic elections today”; “The Arabs in Israel are the only Middle East Arab group that practices true democracy”; and “Israel is secure not because it will elect Bibi or Buji, but because of what it is doing today.” He was rooting for Isaac Herzog (“Buji”) and deplored Benjamin Netanyahu, but after acknowledging that his candidate had lost, he nevertheless tweeted, “Israel is the world’s most vibrant democracy” …. “If an Arab country had the same wide spectrum of political parties as Israel does, it would be fighting a civil war unseen in human history.”

Astoundingly, even Hamas in Gaza issued numerous tweets urging Israeli Arabs to vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List. One can only imagine what Gaza residents must have felt at seeing Hamas urge Palestinian Israelis to exercise a right Palestinians in Gaza are denied by their own Hamas-run government.

The absence of Palestinian elections can’t be blamed on “the occupation,” since said “occupation” didn’t prevent elections for the Palestinian Authority from being held in both 1994 and 2005/2006. Rather, it’s entirely the choice of the Palestinians’ own rival governments – Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Both have steadfastly refused to call new elections for fear of losing power.

Nor is the vote the only right Palestinians’ own governments deny them. They are also deprived of other basic civil rights like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Both Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank routinely arrest and intimidate journalists; consequently, a recent study found, fully 80% of Palestinian journalists say they self-censor. Palestinians also face arrest even for Facebook posts criticizing their respective governments.

But aside from the fact that this denial of basic civil rights is bad in general, it has real implications for the peace process. Here, another of Nuseibeh’s Election Day tweets is instructive: “Neither the PA nor Bibi want peace. Difference is Israel can remove its own obstacle for peace, through free elections.”

Even if one disputes his assessment of Netanyahu, Abbas or both, his basic point is unarguable: If Israelis see a chance for peace and consider their own prime minister an obstacle to it, they can unseat him – an option they’ve in fact exercised in the past. Palestinians have no such option.

But the problem goes deeper than that – because Abbas, now in the 11th year of his four-year term, also lacks the democratic legitimacy needed to make the kind of concessions any peace agreement would entail. Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid summed up the issue bluntly in a lecture to the Limmud UK conference in December: Abbas, he told his shocked audience, will never be able to make peace with Israel, because he currently represents nobody except himself, his wife and his two sons.

And this does much to explain what most Western leaders consider the deplorable outcome of yesterday’s Israeli vote. As a poll taken last week showed, fully 64% of Israeli Jews agree that “no matter which party forms the next government the peace process with the Palestinians will not advance because there is no solution to the dispute,” and an identical 64% believe “the Palestinian leadership will not show greater flexibility and readiness for concessions” if Herzog replaces Netanyahu. In other words, Israelis saw no reason to vote for a premier more enthusiastic about pursuing peace talks because they saw no answering enthusiasm from the Palestinian side. Had they faced a new Palestinian government that did show interest in making peace, I suspect Israelis would choose Herzog over Netanyahu by a large majority.

Thus if Western leaders are serious about wanting Israeli-Palestinian peace, working to rectify the lack of Palestinian democracy would be far more productive than wringing their hands over the choices made by Israel’s democracy. For precisely because Israelis can always change their minds again in a few years, the Palestinian democracy deficit is far more detrimental to the prospects for peace than the outcome of any Israeli election ever could be.

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Is Turkey Hosting Hamas Training Camps?

I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

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I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

After all, in the wake of the Palestinian elections, the European Union, the United States, and other countries had demanded that Hamas first acquiesce to the basis of the Oslo Accords—that is foreswearing terrorism and recognizing Israel—before it would be a welcome player in the international community. This was good diplomacy, after all, because the precondition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence was the Palestinian abandonment of terror and recognition of Israel. It was not an optional aspect to the agreement. Should the Palestinian Authority cease respecting that aspect of the agreement, Israel would be justified legally in returning to the status quo ante.

The reason for the surprise at Turkish actions was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had personally promised German Chancellor Angela Merkel just days before that Turkey would not invite the Hamas leader. Erdoğan thought he would be too clever by half, however, and explained that the invitation came not at the behest of Turkey but rather by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which dominated the Turkish government.

Over subsequent years, the relationship between Erdoğan and Hamas grew tighter. Erdoğan’s affair with Hamas had little to do with sympathy toward the Palestinian cause—after all, this was a cause he undermined by favoring Hamas over Fatah—but rather with Hamas’ Islamist and perhaps anti-Semitic vision. Hamas leaders inside Turkey planned recent terrorist plots against Israel.

Perhaps the United States was willing to turn a blind eye toward Erdoğan’s dalliance with a terror group. That might have simply been a factor of the man in the Oval Office. But, if the latest reports are true, then Erdoğan has gone far beyond the realm of plausible deniability. From Israel’s Ynetnews:

Relations been Israel and Turkey have been on a slippery downward slope in recent years; of late, however, the situation has led to grave consequences beyond the realm of politics: Turkey has become a Hamas hotbed, and members of the organization’s military wing are undergoing military training on Turkish soil, with the knowledge, support and assistance of the local authorities. The U.S. administration has appealed in recent months to the Turkish government to prevent Hamas military activity in its territory, arguing that Turkey is a member of NATO and that most NATO members view Hamas as a terrorist organization. The appeals have gone unanswered.

The idea that Turkey—a NATO member—would allow military training camps on its soil for a group designated by the United States and much the rest of the West as a terrorist organization is not something that can be diplomatically cast aside. Just as states—even allied states—are designated as deficient when it comes to combating human trafficking or money laundering on the logic that they work to rectify their status, so too it is time to designate Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism with whatever sanctions incumbent levied until such a time as Turkey rectifies its behavior. Such a designation might have financial implications in the defense sector and general investment, but quiet diplomacy simply has not worked. It’s time to hold Turkey to account.

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Israel, Jordan, and the Disproportionate Response

In the wake of the brutal execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by ISIS, Jordan has unleashed a barrage of air attacks on the Islamist rebels. Over three days the Hashemite kingdom boasted of having hit some 56 targets and of killing 7,000 ISIS fighters. Whatever the actual figures, there can be no doubt that Jordan has massively increased its action against the jihadists, and now, with Jordanian television endlessly broadcasting images of King Abdullah in camouflage uniform strategizing alongside his generals, it is being reported that the Jordanians are moving a large force to the country’s Iraqi border. To be clear, there is nothing disproportionate about any of this. ISIS represents a very real threat to what is generally thought of as one of the weaker Arab states and the Jordanians are now using the kind of force warranted to seriously combat ISIS. But imagine if instead of ISIS it was Hamas, and if instead of Jordan boasting of 7,000 killed, it was Israel.

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In the wake of the brutal execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by ISIS, Jordan has unleashed a barrage of air attacks on the Islamist rebels. Over three days the Hashemite kingdom boasted of having hit some 56 targets and of killing 7,000 ISIS fighters. Whatever the actual figures, there can be no doubt that Jordan has massively increased its action against the jihadists, and now, with Jordanian television endlessly broadcasting images of King Abdullah in camouflage uniform strategizing alongside his generals, it is being reported that the Jordanians are moving a large force to the country’s Iraqi border. To be clear, there is nothing disproportionate about any of this. ISIS represents a very real threat to what is generally thought of as one of the weaker Arab states and the Jordanians are now using the kind of force warranted to seriously combat ISIS. But imagine if instead of ISIS it was Hamas, and if instead of Jordan boasting of 7,000 killed, it was Israel.

Of course Jordan had been participating in strikes against ISIS long before the kidnapping and murder of al-Kasasbeh. Back in September Jordan had joined with the Gulf states as part of the U.S.-led effort against ISIS. But since al-Kasasbeh’s horrific murder Jordan has begun to seriously flex what military muscle it has. Indeed, it is doing so in an open display of revenge against ISIS. Quite apart from the fact that many will consider such revenge a just response, it is also fully in Jordan’s national interest to push back ISIS before the rebels are able to cross the country’s porous desert border. No doubt many in the region will simply be grateful to see someone displaying the will to take serious action against ISIS and the terrible prospect that its rapid expansion represents.

Yet, watching all of this unfold one can’t help but think of the war that took place this summer shortly before allied strikes on ISIS began. The world was indeed shocked, albeit momentarily, by the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers while on their way home from school. But as Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper in an attempt to find the boys and to round up Hamas operatives in the West Bank, there were already the first mutterings that Israel needed to show restraint. Concerns were expressed that Israel’s operation in the West Bank might “destabilize” the situation.

Then when a desperate Hamas short on friends and money used these events as an excuse to unleash an unprecedented wave of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israeli civilians, Israel’s allies formed a chorus calling on the Israeli government to show maximum restraint. That phrase was so chilling in its moral redundancy and yet so commonly heard that it became inspiration for a remarkably apt song by Peter Himmelman.

Fortunately, Israel ignored the calls coming from Washington and the European capitals, and acting in its national interest hit Hamas hard. But for doing so the Israelis were now subjected to another allegation; that this was a disproportionate response. Even John Kerry was unwittingly caught on camera discussing the matter in angry and condescending tones; “it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation, it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation!” the secretary of state was heard saying.

The discussion around the escalation in Jordan’s war against ISIS has been unrecognizable in comparison. Even if the claim that 7,000 ISIS fighters have been killed in airstrikes is true, how many civilians have been killed alongside those fighters? Today the question of civilian casualties goes virtually unmentioned, whereas during Israel’s war with Hamas every news screen seemed to keep a running tally of the numbers killed in Gaza, always with an emphasis on the claim that these were mostly civilians, often accompanied by sneering remarks by journalists about how few Israeli casualties there had been. Not enough for the liking of those in Europe such as Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, that was for sure.

Then of course there has been the death of American hostage Kayla Mueller. ISIS had claimed she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, however the Pentagon has made clear its belief that Mueller was in fact murdered by ISIS directly. But either way, imagine if it was being claimed that an American citizen had been killed during Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. What would be the reaction then, and where would most of the blame be placed?

To be clear, Jordan is not using disproportionate force against ISIS. Proportionality is measured in terms of the amount of force legitimately warranted to militarily defeat an enemy. It does not mean that if Hamas indiscriminately fires thousands of projectiles into Israeli civilian areas then Israel should simply do the same back to Gaza. Nor that if ISIS burns a Jordanian pilot to death then Jordan is only permitted to execute one ISIS fighter. Far from it. Jordan is permitted to use the amount of force necessary to defeat ISIS, but not more.

The truth is that most people agree that ISIS should be defeated, they agree ISIS is unquestionably evil. Not so with Hamas. Similarly, almost nobody in the West questions Jordan’s right to have taken preemptive action against ISIS in the first place. But clearly very many people fiercely opposed Israel’s right to take any real action to stop the attacks being launched against its people. Rather, most of Israel’s supposed allies applied pressure to try and force Israel into stopping the rockets by appeasing Hamas’s demands.

For many it seems that the definition of disproportionate is any action taken by the Jewish state that might limit its enemy’s abilities to eventually destroy it.

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