In NYT op-ed, Herzog casts war against Hamas as struggle for better Middle East

President says conflict is not only ‘existential struggle’ for Jewish state but modern world’s fight against ‘barbarism’ of Hamas; and future of region at stake

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)
President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on October 24, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

President Isaac Herzog characterized the ongoing Israel-Hamas war as a fight between civilization and barbarism that will determine the future of the Middle East, in an op-ed published in The New York Times Friday.

Herzog described the conflict as not just an “existential struggle” for Israel but a war “between those who adhere to norms of humanity and those practicing a barbarism that has no place in the modern world,” citing the terrorists who committed brutal atrocities as they rampaged through southern communities on October 7, as well as those around the world who marched in support of them.

“History has taught us that foul ideologies often find the Jewish people first — but tend not to stop there. We find ourselves on the front lines of this battle, but all nations face this threat, and they must understand that they could be next,” he wrote.

Comparing Hamas to ISIS and al-Qaeda, Herzog decried the “moral confusion” across the world. He noted that it would have been “unthinkable” for protesters to rationalize the September 11 terror attacks in the same way some have done for Hamas’s massacre.

The president described meeting the relatives of the some 240 hostages kidnapped by terrorists and held in Gaza as “the most difficult and fraught I’ve ever had.”

“I’ve also spoken with families of some of the more than 1,400 of my people who were killed that day, many of them murdered in their living rooms and kitchens or dancing at a music festival. When I returned from one kibbutz devastated in the attack, I had to wash the blood off my shoes,” he wrote, describing the October 7 onslaught.

File: Destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 14, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“Tragedy is part of Israeli life, and I knew it would be part of my time as president. But none of us imagined a tragedy like this.”

Herzog decried Hamas’s “cynical exploitation of civilian suffering,” particularly the terror group’s use of human shields, but said such tactics would not stop Israel from carrying out its offensive.

“For us and for the Palestinians, the suffering will end only with the removal of Hamas. Anyone trying to tie our hands is, intentionally or not, undermining not only Israel’s defense but also any hope for a world where these atrocities cannot happen,” he wrote.

Herzog added that the period leading up to Hamas’s brutal incursion was marked by “the emergence of a better Middle East,” in reference to Israel forging ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco under the Abraham Accords, and progress towards normalization with Saudi Arabia.

“Will this be the world that emerges from this crisis? Or will it be the world desired by the murderous fundamentalists of Hamas?” he asked.

Some have speculated Hamas’s massacre was timed to sabotage efforts to form ties with Riyadh.

“Much is at stake at this moment, not just the future of Israel. On October 7 we were all jolted awake and presented with a shocking challenge to our hopes and morals. How we meet this challenge will shape our future,” he concluded.

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