What’s all this sympathy for Hamas?

We must look into the hysteria, cowardice and just plain nonsense prevalent in large elements of the West today following the flotilla incident.

By BARRY RUBIN
June 7, 2010 06:31
Marmara passengers prepare for IDF raid

mavi marmara passengers 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

 
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In all the discussions of the Gaza flotilla affair, it is vital to keep some key issues in mind.

Has this been largely negative for Israel in terms of public opinion? In the United States, the answer is a limited yes especially among segments of the elite. In Europe, a more generalized yes.

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Whether or how much this is going to relate to policy changes is another matter. There is a lot of talk and even panic in the rhetoric of countries. But what is actually going to happen? Increased contacts with Hamas? Serious pressure to let anything go into Gaza without inspection? Not likely.

There will probably be some pressure to ease controls on specific items passed to the Gaza Strip, especially if they are not directly for military use. This would benefit Hamas in two ways: First, increased “normality” in the Gaza Strip means the consolidation of its rule so that it can fight more effectively in the future, undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and project a general political line which would make Palestinian opinion more extreme and any progress on peacemaking (tenuous enough already) out of the question.

Second, by receiving certain items that are not for direct military use, Hamas would be strengthened militarily; for example, it would have more concrete to build bunkers. Hamas would also seize goods to reward its elite and soldiers.

The actual differences, however, might be limited if the level and category of increased goods is not too great.



Note that all of the above is bad for Western interests and far more likely to bring about future fighting and subversion of others. Indeed, it is far more likely to bring suffering to Gazans – both on a daily basis under a repressive regime and in the future under a regime that is determined to provoke war and the smaller military actions brought about by terrorism and rocket-firing.

SHOULD THE main motivation of international policy in the Middle East be to “make things better” for Gazans, especially when that strategy will make things worse for them?

Is, then, all strategic thinking out the window, and should this standard be applied throughout the world that all the doings of mighty nations (well, once-mighty) be oriented toward short-term material benefits to specific populations with no regard for the implications of that policy?

An example: Fighting in Afghanistan hurts the local people. Therefore, all foreign troops should pull out of Afghanistan. Sanctions on Iran, even if “targeted,” may increase the suffering of Iranians, so Iran should just be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. All US sanctions on Cuba should end because they definitely depress living standards there. Yet shouldn’t such decisions be made in strategic terms?

It might seem callous at first glance but the fact is that the Gaza flotilla incident was a rather minor event in the world. Yes, it received media attention and played into emotions. Policy-makers, however, are supposed to be above such considerations and take a more long-term approach.

Will the above argument convince anyone? Well, it is supposed to be how policy-makers think. Most likely, however, it won’t change many minds (I’ll settle for changing some minds). But that is the other point about these events.

If it is true that this situation is a “victory” for Hamas, it is not due to Israel making some huge mistake or doing something wrong but to the perception of that happening. And to understand this we must discuss the hysteria, cowardice and just plain nonsense prevalent in large elements of the West today, with the mass media being one critical element in this process.

To be manipulated by a small group with ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups is not very sophisticated. And here I don’t refer even to all of those involved in the flotilla but to the relatively small directing group on one out of six ships.

For a movement that extols martyrdom and is indifferent to the cost in blood, the tactical question is: How do we get our enemies to shoot us? The war provoked by Hamas in 2008 by violating the cease-fire and launching massive attacks on Israel is a much larger case in point. And look how much that “succeeded” in creating anti-Israel opinion and sympathy for Hamas.

Terrorism isn’t just about violence or craziness. It is about the ability of small groups of extremists (September 11, a mass transit bombing in Spain that leads to Spanish troops pulling out of Iraq, the intimidation of whole countries away from the principle of free speech) to change the entire world.

Yet such changes are largely possible because much of the world lets them do so, in effect becomes – wittingly or otherwise – their collaborator in promoting their version of events and their cause. Israel only happens to be the most obvious and consistent target, but there are many others. In some cases, they will merely be the next targets.

What if the media coverage and the opinion-makers’ responses had been overwhelmingly sensible and balanced, explaining the nature and goals of Hamas, the identity and motives of the people attacking IDF forces and the purpose of the sanctions on the Gaza Strip? It is not an Israeli failure but their failure to think clearly and do their job properly that leads to such a result.

Presumably, many people will find the above paragraph to be purely partisan. Yet it also happens to be true, and in historically normal times that would be the view of the majority by far.

Is it a waste of time to try to use logic and facts to respond to this situation as some people think? Perhaps, yes. But fundamentally it is the only option that exists in discussing these matters.

IN THE case of Hamas, hundreds of terrorist act against Israel; an unprovoked coup against its fellow Palestinians; the tightening fist of Taliban-style rule; and the daily outpouring of calls for genocide and raw anti-Semitism have been insufficient perhaps to get the point across. The fact that in late 2008, Hamas – despite the urgings of Israel – ignored the cease-fire and started massive attacks, requiring retaliation, has in many quarters been interpreted as an innocent Hamas versus an Israel that commits war crimes.


There are, however, additional options that may well – probably will – appear eventually. They are the statements (if anyone bothers to report them) of the revolutionary Islamists and their allies, which will reveal themselves. And there are their actions: atrocities, the revolutionary overthrow of countries and the clear appearance of a strategic threat too big to ignore.

After all, that’s the way things happened the last three times. Only when the march of fascism in the 1930s, the expansionism and oppression of communism in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the dangers of revolutionary Islamism a decade ago became too big to ignore, they were no longer ignored. A light went off in the collective brain of the democratic world.

Perhaps that will be the only way this time as well. But Israel, whatever the cost, will not accept being the victim of that experiment. Others, however, will pay the price of revolutionary Islamism. The irony is that they will be mainly Arabic speaking and Muslim. When rising revolutionary violence exerts a cost on them, international public opinion is unlikely to care that much. Hopefully, policy-makers will get the point.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com

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