Welcome to the latest episode of Israel’s surreal reality in the vicious, unstable, religiously extreme Middle East.
To our north, we witness anarchy in Syria, which intermittently spills over into our territory; over 150,000 dead; global indifference; and Syrian doctors sending their patients to Israel for lifesaving treatment.
To our east, we face Palestinian extremists demonstrably capable of seizing and killing not only our soldiers but also our teenage civilians. Further east, Islamic State extremists, so brutal as to make other terror groups seem relatively mild, make gains in Iraq and seek to threaten Jordan. Nearby, the Israel-loathing Iranian regime demands, by its own calculations, 20 times as many centrifuges as even a compromising international community wants to allow for its “peaceful” nuclear program.
And now, down south, we find ourselves drawn into another major round of conflict against Hamas, which insists, for no remotely credible reason, on firing rockets ever deeper into Israel from an enclave in which there is no Israeli military or civilian presence whatsoever.
We’re still on Day One of what the Israeli army has dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and the contours of international thinking are already predictably clear: Since people are dying in Gaza and, as of this writing, nobody has been killed in Israel, plainly Israel’s response is an aggressive overreaction.
It becomes wearying, conflict after conflict, but it is necessary, nonetheless, to urge policy-makers and opinion-shapers overseas to make just a modicum of effort, to look just a little closer, to exercise just a smidgen of intellectual honesty. And to recognize the bottom line: If there was no rocket fire from this non-disputed enclave, there would be no Israeli response, and nobody would be dying.
The sorry fact is that both before and after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, terrorists in the coastal enclave have been firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, gloating when they maim Israelis and crying foul to the international community when Israel hits back and, inadvertently, hurts the Gaza civilians whom the terror groups have placed in harm’s way.
That Israelis do not die in greater numbers has nothing to do with Hamas and the other terror groups. They’re doing their absolute best to kill us. They’ve been assiduously smuggling in and manufacturing weaponry so that they now have hundreds of missiles that can reach Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and beyond, while imploring the international community to end Israel’s security blockade so that they can import even more potent means to murder us.
We’ve not been dying in greater numbers only because Israel has maintained that blockade, at terrible cost to its international standing, and because rather than putting its citizens in the line of fire, Hamas-style, to win international sympathy, Israel has built alarm systems, and bomb shelters, and protected areas, and the world’s most sophisticated missile defense systems, to try to keep its people safe.
Gaza could have flourished after Israel wrenched its 8,000 civilians from the 20-plus settlements there in 2005. Gazans could have built an island of democracy. Investment could have grown, as it did in the early 1990s, when expat Palestinian investors, believing better times were at hand, fueled a brief property boom. Gaza’s golden beaches could have been a promising tourism draw. If Gaza had become a seemingly stable area, Israel might even have felt sufficiently trusting of the Palestinians as to attempt a similar unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.
But hostility to Israel was so profound that Gazans couldn’t even restrain themselves for long enough to fool us into trusting them. No sooner were the settlers and the army gone than local residents smashed the greenhouses the settlers had left behind — trashing their own economic potential. The rockets kept flying. And in 2007 Hamas, overtly committed to destroying Israel, booted out the relatively moderate forces of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and seized control.
It’s a truism that it’s easy to start a war and rather harder to know where it might end up. We will now watch with unease as the resort to force takes its unpredictable course. Recent days have seen the Israeli leadership clearly seeking not to get embroiled in another major offensive with Hamas — but its offer, its plea, of “quiet for quiet,” was ignored. We brace now for missile fire on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and agonize about the implications of a ground offensive.
Analysts posit that Hamas is firing some of its vast rocket arsenal because it has nothing much to lose anymore — that it has lost the support of Egypt; that it can’t get the money to pay salaries; that it is retaliating for the deaths of several of its terror operatives in a tunnel that collapsed upon them after Israel had the temerity to attack it; that it is seeking to reassert itself as the only credible “resistance” to Israel…
But really, again, why the need to “resist” an Israel that has no presence in Gaza, and that has long since internalized the imperative to seek an accommodation with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank if this can only be achieved without imperiling Israel’s own existence? Why? Because, for Hamas, hostility to the very fact of Israel’s existence still far outweighs any and all other interests.