By Jonathan Kay
It’s a rhetorical question that’s been asked many times before. But given Wednesday’s events in Gaza, it’s worth asking again: Can anyone name a country on the face of the planet that would regard recurrent rocket attacks on its territory as anything but an act of war? And since the obvious answer is no, why should Israel not be expected to fight back when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups seek to murder Israelis in this fashion?
Israel has endured thousands of unprovoked missile attacks since moving its troops and citizens out of Gaza in 2005, with the volleys typically coming in short bursts, followed by reprisals, informal truces, and several months of relative calm - at which point the cycle starts over again.
The latest spasm began on Saturday, when terrorists fired a missile at an Israeli vehicle. Since then, more than 100 rockets have been fired into Israel, which has responded with air force attacks against launch sites and other targets. Then on Wednesday, Israel upped the ante in a spectacularly surgical way, killing Hamas’ head of military operations, Ahmed Jabari, with an air strike. And Israeli rhetoric suggests that the attack may be just the opening blow in a larger campaign, which might include ground operations. “The first aim of this operation is to bring back quiet to southern Israel,” said Israeli military spokesman Yoav Mordechai. “The second target is to strike at terror organizations.”
In general terms, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a political solution: If it were merely a matter of military might, Israel could have declared victory decades ago. A two-state solution - which Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas both nominally seek - will require deals to be struck on borders, the status of Jerusalem, water rights and refugees.
Israel and Hamas on the brink of war after airstrike kills top militant commander
But all of those issues principally relate to the West Bank. Gaza has been 100% Judenrein for seven years. Its border with Israel is clear and uncontested. If its Hamas-led government wanted to turn the territory into something resembling a normal, sovereign entity, all it would have to do is renounce terrorism against Israel (and Egypt, for that matter), recognize the Jewish state, and petition for entry into the community of civilized nations.
Instead, Hamas has built a cult of death and martyrdom. As a result, innocent Palestinians suffer an isolated existence under the closure policy that Israel has (justifiably) imposed on the territory in a bid to prevent terrorist attacks.
The 52-year-old Jabari was a symbol of the nihilistic Jew-hatred that comprises Hamas’ foreign policy (and which is encoded in its founding 1988 covenant, where “the fight with the warmongering Jews” is a prominent theme). In 2010, when Israeli-Palestinian negotiations seemed to be entering a hopeful phase, Jabari did his best to derail a negotiated peace through violence, telling a Palestinian news agency: “With the power of faith, weapons and missiles, tunnels and commandos, we will achieve victory.” He also personally oversaw the imprisonment of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and then bragged, upon his release, that the first 477 Palestinian prisoners who were released in exchange had killed a total of 569 Israeli civilians.
This is not the first time that Israel has gone after Hamas’ leadership. In March, 2004, an Israeli airstrike killed Hamas co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. A month later, his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, was blown up in similar fashion. Hamas then promised a “volcano of revenge,” but its attempts at spectacular attacks have been stymied by Israeli security measures, and the penetration of Gazan society by Israeli intelligence operatives.
In 2004, the Palestinians could count on a massive wave of international outrage whenever Israel took steps to defend itself. But that is not the case anymore. Thanks to the Arab Spring, Western foreign policy pundits have moved on to other subjects. The “Boat for Gaza” and other NGO stunts have come to seem like tired, irrelevant shtick in a part of the world where over 30,000 Syrians have died in that country’s civil war. Meanwhile, Gaza itself has lost almost all of its foreign correspondents, many of whom saw their colleagues intimidated or brutalized by Islamist thugs.
Hamas’ surviving leaders have a choice. They can continue playing soldier, launching terrorist attacks against the Jewish state until the IDF eventually swoops in and confronts Hamas’ paramilitary apparatus in a deadly operation similar to the 2007-2008 conflict. Or they can recognize that the world has changed, and refashion Hamas in a more peaceful form, thereby creating a possible blueprint for a Palestinian state.
Pointless terrorism and bloodshed - or peaceful nation-building? It’s a simple choice. And until Palestinians get it right, their commanders will live their lives in Israeli crosshairs.