After the abandonment of Israel by the UK, with its promise to limit arms sales to Israel if Hamas restarts its attacks on our civilians, we now learn that the US is already restricting arms sales to Israel, having halted a planned supply of the Hellfire precision missiles that enable Israel to strike at the rocket launchers set up by Hamas in the heart of Gaza’s residential areas.
While we seek to ascertain just how grave the crisis now is between Israel and its most important ally — is the case of the non-delivered Hellfires a procedural delay or the beginning of an embargo? is the relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations ruptured or just very heavily strained? — nobody is going to believe the prime minister the next time he claims, as he did two weeks ago, that US support throughout this campaign has been “terrific.”
It becomes ever harder to understand what the US administration thinks it is doing in the Middle East. Its influence is waning across the region. It appears insufficiently robust — to put it mildly — when dealing with the region’s most dangerous regimes, notably Iran. Its ill-judged lack of enthusiasm for Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — apparently blamed by Washington for ending an elected Muslim Brotherhood presidency, even though president Mohammed Morsi would likely have ensured no further elections — is pushing Egypt ever closer to Russia. And now ties with the region’s only democracy are fraying.
Some in the administration appear to labor under the delusion that if only Benjamin Netanyahu — described by some US officials in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal as “reckless and untrustworthy” — could be weakened and eased aside, Israelis might elect a leadership more inclined to follow its thinking and consider territorial compromise in the cause of a rejuvenated peace process with the Palestinians. The fact is, of course, that an Israel attempting to de-fang Hamas, concerned at the possibility of rising tensions in the West Bank, aware that Hezbollah in Lebanon is many times more powerful than Hamas is, and watching Iran working to outwit the West on its route to nuclear weapons, is as likely to veer left as Hamas is to voluntarily disarm. Far from being the most obdurate prime minister, Netanyahu is the most moderate that Israel can be expected to choose in the foreseeable future.
It is frankly astounding to the overwhelming majority of Israelis that Israel is being blamed for and pressured to end a war it manifestly sought to avoid — against a terrorist-government sworn to its destruction that repeatedly breaches the ceasefire efforts Israel consistently accepts. That the conflict is widely misrepresented, and that hostile governments are critical, is bad enough for Israel. Far, far graver is that key allies, to one degree or another, are turning upon it.
Hamas has fired more than 3,000 rockets into Israel. It exploited periods of calm in the years since it violently seized control of Gaza to build a network of tunnels under the border into Israel through which it planned major terrorist attacks. It documentedly emplaced its war machine in the heart of Gaza’s residential neighborhoods. It seeks to lift “the siege of Gaza” so that it can build a still more potent offensive capability.
It should be blindingly obvious that Israel and Egypt do not impose the blockade as a collective punishment or caprice. There was no blockade before Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel had unilaterally left Gaza two years earlier, and hoped to be rewarded with tranquility. If Gaza was not run by a terrorist government, there would be no need for a security blockade to prevent arms smuggling.
Rather than criticizing Israel for seeking to protect its civilians from Hamas, and moving now to limit its capacity to do so, the US, UK and the rest of the international community should be emphatically backing Israel in its struggle against the cynical Hamas — for the sake, too, of the civilians of Gaza. They should be insisting that Hamas disarm. And they should be making clear that they share Israel’s and Egypt’s concern that lifting the blockade is not tenable so long as any easing of restrictions would be exploited by Hamas.
They would thus be underlining the message to Gazans that Hamas is not fighting for their freedom, as it claims, but is, through its pursuit of war against Israel, denying them their freedom.
They would also be giving Israel reason to believe that when it finds itself in crisis — in good part, it can be argued, because it undertook a territorial withdrawal widely urged by the international community — the world will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with it. Right now, the sense in Israel is quite the reverse — not support, but abandonment.
From Hamas’s point of view, it must be a source of immense delight to witness the strains, and practical fallout, in the relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. It wins an election in which the US insisted it be allowed to take part, even though it has never renounced terrorism. It murders its way to control of Gaza. It diverts Gaza’s resources to turn the Strip into one great big terrorist bunker. It hits Israel, over and over and over again. It intimidates international journalists to not report on and film its attack methods. And the international community condemns Israel, the UN sets up inquiries into Israeli war crimes, and Israel’s allies limit its arms supplies.
All it needs to do, Hamas can only conclude, is keep firing at Israel’s towns and villages, forcing Israel to respond, confident that this will bring still more criticism down on Israel as well as growing restrictions on Israel’s ability to defend itself. Wow, the Hamas leaders must be thinking, the free world is just so dumb.