No one knew Israel better than Nizar Ghayan.
A professor at the Islamic University in Gaza City, as well as the most respected Hamas military and spiritual strategist since the 2004 assassination of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, no one knew better than Ghayan the maxim he taught his students:
Whatever Israel does to Hamas, Hamas will win.
If you kill us, we will become martyrs, the most beloved of God and the Palestinian people, and we will win. If you refrain from killing us, whether from fear or political expedience or moral considerations, we have only cemented our victory.
The examples were manifold, and constantly expanding. Every move Israel made to undermine and crush and topple Hamas, he taught, only builds support for the defiance and the resistance and the national self-esteem that Hamas symbolizes and embodies.
Moreover, Hezbollah's experience in fighting Israel in the 2006 Second Lebanon War seemed the ultimate validation of the principle that all Hamas needed to do to win this war - and eventually take over the West Bank, and, in the end, all of Israel - was to survive.
There was every reason to believe Ghayan was right in every respect. That is, until Israel gave the order to kill him on Thursday.
Something has changed in the Mideast equation, and the killing of Ghayan [pronounced like Ryan with a hard R], is a telling indication of that change.
Knowing Israel (having listened to the Israeli far-right as it condemned the IDF as an army of pansies afraid to fight, and to the Israeli far-left as it sympathized only with Gaza casualties and not those in Sderot), Ghayan knew that he could surround himself with the human shields of four wives and 11 children and survive this war.
Knowing the UN and the international community, Ghayan knew that if he used mosques for Hamas armed wing headquarters and storage armories for longer-range rockets from Iran and China, Israeli military planners would not dare to attack them, fearing a grave diplomatic and public outcry.
Knowing that the Israeli Air Force (in his view, demonstrating the Jew's essential weakness) had begun warning Gazans of impending attacks, Ghayan refused to have his family take to the roof to cause Israel to call off the bombing. The human shield would suffice.
In a matter of 24 hours, two mosques serving as Hamas military bases were destroyed, and Ghayan and his family killed.
The world? The world has taken much more interest in New Years. The Palestinians? A central fact of the Mideast equation may, at long last, be dawning on them:
To win, all that Israel has to do, is survive.
When Khayam and Hamas reveled in their continued commitment to the eventual destruction of Israel, they, as well as Iran and radical Islamists the world over, made sure that the sheer existence of a puny Jewish state was that state's victory over a billion-strong Muslim world.
When the world's radical Islamists adopted a strictly Palestinian Holy Land as their one common ideological denominator, they also gave a new meaning to their contention that rocket attacks on Israel really have nothing to do with this war.
This is a war for the future of Islam.
Specially, it is a war over the future of radical Islam, which for the past decade, has vigorously and skillfully labored to surpass settlements, Palestinian misrule, and a host of other factors to become the pre-eminent obstruction to peace in the Holy Land.
It is a war fueled by the fact that radical Islam is riven, and murderously so, by profound disagreements over Islam itself - to the point where Sunnis and Shi'ites have taken to bombing each others' mosques, and each other - and that there can be only one point of agreement among radical Muslims from Manila to London to Tehran: hatred of Israel and prayer for its destruction.
The world however, is no longer accepting Hamas' hydra-headed PR role as, at one and the same time, a humanitarian NGO, a sovereign government, and a resistance [read, terrorist] organization.
And many Palestinians, grieved and furious as they are over the civilian deaths in Israeli air raids, are coming to the same conclusion. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who has written eloquently of his friendships with fervent Palestinian nationalists, posted an entry this week entitled:A Fatah Friend Writes: I'm supporting the Israeli Air Force.
"I've been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information," Goldberg writes.
One of those friends, he continues, "told me that one of his comrades was thrown off a high-rise building in Gaza City last year by Hamas, and so he sheds no tears for the Hamas dead. 'Let the Israelis kill them,' he said. 'They've brought only trouble for my people.'"
Gazans, desperate, sinking, enraged, despairing, listened to Nizar Ghayan as they had listened to no one since Yassin. Here was the heir. Here was the man who rewrote the history of Gaza and the Palestinian cause, when he issued the religious decree which allowed Hamas fighters to do what Palestinians had sworn never to do - to take up arms against and kill brother Palestinians in the 2007 Hamas-Fatah civil war in Gaza.
"We know this country," Ghayan said in a Hamas television broadcast on the eve of his death, a segment rebroadcast several times on Israel televisions stations as well. He promised to send suicide bombers to kill Israelis, in attacks which would "humiliate the enemy to ashes."
No people on earth have been hurt more by Islamic terrorism than the Palestinians. Terrorism itself, and the ideology of Hamas, has come home to kill the cause of Palestine. When radical Islamic terrorism cost the Palestinian national movement the support of the world community and that of Israel's moderate consensus, it cost Palestinians their nation.
Ghayan, meanwhile, knew everything about the Jews, except perhaps one thing:
If the Jews were as fiendish as the Jews in Ghayan's sermons, perhaps they could be as fiendish as Hamas.
There is something fiendishly Hamas-like in the Israeli's conduct of this war. Israelis, for the first time, may be beginning to know how Hamas thinks.
There was a time, not long ago, when the world - and world Jewry with it - would have risen up in a deafening outcry against the events of this week. But the world, somehow, also has changed.
And Hamas' friends, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria, are letting Hamas people be slaughtered, and not lifting a finger to help.
There was, as well, something fiendishly Hamas-like in Israel's choice of the name Operation Cast Lead, referring, as it does to both the religious joy of the Hanukkah festival - celebrating an uprising - and the conscience-free callousness of munitions.
It turns out that the code name may have stood for something else as well:
Permanent-as-metal Mideast truisms which have served professors for decades, can melt away in an instant. Like cast lead.
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