Thursday, May 31, 2018

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column

Here it is Wednesday midday, and some 180 mortar shells and rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in the last 48 hours, including rockets that reached farther north than any since 2014. The IDF responded in the usual way, bombarding military targets in the Strip that Hamas and Islamic Jihad personnel had evacuated. At this moment, there seems to be an informal cease-fire in effect. It may or may not hold; we could be on the verge of yet another “grass-cutting” operation in Gaza, or the whole thing could just be a minor blip. Meanwhile, a lot of people who would rather have been somewhere else spent their mornings sitting in bomb shelters.

The usual suspects in the Western media are committing their usual crimes against the truth. Yesterday, NPR ran a story entitled “What Has The Unrest In Gaza Meant For Palestinians?” Really. I won’t bother to link to it, but I thought about writing a piece about what the unrest at Pearl Harbor meant for the Japanese.

The objective of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), is to conquer the land now occupied by the Jews, preferably killing as many of them as possible. It is a religious imperative, an obligatory jihad, and so will not end until one or the other side overcomes its enemy. It’s been a long war, and our enemies have taken different political forms over the last 100 years; but the motive has always been the same. Some periods are more violent than others, but there has never been peace. 

When the battle goes against our enemies, they offer a hudna modeled after Mohammed’s treaty of Hudaybiyyah with the Meccans, a temporary truce to give them chance to prepare for the next round. That is the closest they can get to a peace offer.

Our enemies aren’t stupid, and they understand the overriding importance of cognitive warfare for the physically weaker side in an asymmetric struggle. The recent attempt to invade Israel through the border fence with Gaza was, on its surface, a failure. They did not succeed to breach the fence in great numbers and “tear out the hearts” of Jews in nearby communities, as Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar exhorted them to do. But in the cognitive war, it achieved more than one goal.

The main target is popular opinion, in the world and even in Israel. Liberal Western media like NPR are not exactly pro-Hamas. But they are anti-Israel. And Hamas orchestrated the “March of Return” to induce these media to cover the events in a way that portrayed Israel in the worst possible light. NPR jumped to attention and followed the script perfectly. They referred to the attempted invasion as a “protest,” claimed that “thousands” of people were wounded in their legs by Israeli snipers, and referred to this production as a “Palestinian cry for help,” as they “[try] to break out of an area that people inside often regard as an open-air prison.”

It also brought the Palestinian struggle and in particular the demand for a “right of return” to the forefront of international consciousness, at a time when other concerns had pushed it out of view. In recent years the idea that this issue is at the center of the problems of the Middle East had receded to some extent, replaced by the conflicts created by Iranian expansionist ambitions on the one hand, and Sunni extremism on the other. Hamas wants it center stage so that its allies in Europe will continue applying pressure to Israel and supporting the various NGOs and other groups gnawing away at her.

Finally, it gave them an opportunity to suffer what they can present as civilian casualties, so they can accuse Israel of war crimes, or even try to bring her to the International Criminal Court (for internal political reasons, Hamas admitted that most of the dead “protestors” were its military operatives, so this may not work as well this time).

Hamas, PIJ and the PLO understand the West quite well. They know that their propaganda will find fertile places to grow in Europe and even the US, where they have been preparing the ground for an abandonment of Israel for years. And they also know that the last thing that Israel wants is a ground war in Gaza, which will create even more opportunities for propaganda while our society is torn apart with grief for the young men and women who would be killed or injured, and which will end indecisively like all the others.

So we continue trying to tamp down escalation, while allowing the terrorist leaders of the Gaza Arabs the freedom to continue to plan new marches, launch rocket and mortar barrages, set our fields on fire, and who knows what else that grows out of their implacable hatred. 

This is the status quo that is considered acceptable, or at least less unacceptable than the alternatives. But the status quo is not static. Hamas is now supported primarily by Iran, like PIJ and Hezbollah. Someday perhaps they will join in a coordinated attack with Hezbollah in the north. Perhaps at the same time there will be an American Administration with an outlook more like that of the Europeans, and which – like the Obama Administration – will act to restrain us from defending ourselves. And thanks to the cognitive warfare that our enemies have been successfully waging, we won’t find support among the American people or their Congress. At that point, the status quo won’t look so good, but there will be little that we can do about it.

Right now, this moment, is one of the most dangerous times in recent history, at least for folks that live in the Middle East. Nevertheless there are positive factors. The final days of ISIS seem to be at hand, and maybe the map of post-war Syria will shortly take shape. Iran is being pushed back in Syria and losing influence in Iraq. The economic bonanza of the nuclear deal is coming to an end for Iran. Russia seems to be uncomfortable with an Iranian Shiite crescent in the region. And for the first time in many years, there is an American administration that seems fully supportive of Israel (but which also appears politically unstable). 

It’s impossible to predict what will happen when there are so many players, each with their own interlocking interests and concerns, but there may be an opportunity for Israel here that will not reoccur in the near future. There are two ways to approach a chaotic situation: you can hunker down and try to keep from getting hurt, or you can try to exploit it and achieve objectives that are impossible in normal times. 

I think we have grown too comfortable with what we allow to exist next door to us, in Gaza and also in Judea/Samaria. Would we be so comfortable if they wore Nazi uniforms? Probably not, but their ideology is no better; worse, perhaps, because of its religious underpinnings.

Now could be the moment to crush Hamas in Gaza for good.





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