Like the Duchy of Grand Fenwick declaring war against the United States in “The Mouse that Roared,” a 1959 vehicle for Peter Sellers, Hamas decided to attack Israel, a country infinitely superior to it in military power and capability. At first glance, this “mouse” really seems crazy. How could it, armed with homemade rockets and tunnels dug with picks and shovels, possibly defeat Israel, which has one of the best and most advanced armies.
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But on second thought, the mouse turns out not to be so crazy. Caring nothing for the lives of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and knowing that in any military operation Israel would go to great lengths to avoid harming civilians, they figured that this moral asymmetry might well outweigh the military asymmetry between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces.
Here was their game plan: Embed the rocket launchers and the command and control centers among the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, launch barrages of rockets against Israel’s cities and infiltrate terrorists into Israel through the tunnels and provoke an Israeli response against Hamas targets, a response which is bound to result in civilian casualties. Raise a hue and cry that the IDF is killing civilians in the Gaza Strip and bring on protests against Israel throughout the world and calls for an immediate cease-fire. Once Israel agrees to a cease-fire, on the terms of Hamas, claim a Hamas victory over the IDF.
But there were three things Hamas did not take into consideration: The Iron Dome missile interceptor system, Israel’s determination to defend its civilian population and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi’s position: cease-fire first, negotiations later.
The Hamas attack on Israel is not the only act of terrorism directed against civilians in the Middle East in recent years. Events in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Libya produce daily civilian casualties. They should be seen as part of what The Economist, in a recent issue, called “The Tragedy of the Arabs.” And it is Israel’s fate to be situated in the very center of this Arab tragedy, and to be forced to contend with its fallout.
Undoubtedly the undue influence of Islam on Arab societies bears a large share of the responsibility for what the Economist calls the “wretched state” of the Arabs. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who led Turkey after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, realized that in order to modernize Turkey, it was necessary to separate religion and state. He instituted wide-ranging reforms, including banning certain traditional dress codes. Under his leadership and that of his successors, Turkey entered the ranks of modern nation-states, and proved that a Muslim state can be modern and democratic. None of the Arab leaders followed his example, while Turkey’s current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, seems intent on returning Turkey to the Ottoman era. One should not be surprised that he is a fervent supporter of Hamas.
There is no doubt that the fanatical strain of Islam, which seems to have infected and become dominant in most Arab countries, is the root cause of violence and terrorism so prevalent throughout the Arab world today. As should have been expected, the movements promoting violence and terrorism, whether Sunni or Shi’ite — Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel — are all Islamic fundamentalist movements. They commit murder in the name of Allah.
It took despots, like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez Assad in Syria, to subdue the Muslim fundamentalists, but their defeat was temporary. Iraq is breaking apart under their pressure and in Syria Assad’s son Bashar is being challenged by them. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, suppressed for decades by a succession of dictators, came to power through a democratic election after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak and quickly showed that it was far from the answer to Egypt’s ills, despite its slogan “Islam is the answer.” It took Sissi’s coup to overcome the Brotherhood, and the hope is that he will lead Egypt toward modernization and progress. He seems to understand the dangerous nature of Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, better than previous Egyptian rulers and possibly better than some American and European diplomats.
The aims of Hamas are clear. It wants to destroy the State of Israel, and it poses an imminent threat to Israel’s civilian population. Its rule in the Gaza Strip is a tragedy for the Palestinian population there. It is not a partner for negotiations. Israel’s civilian population should not have to live under the threat of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. Hamas has to be disarmed.