A demonstrator holds Palestinian holds during clashes with Israeli troops, during a tent city protest along the Israel border with Gaza, demanding the right to return to their homeland, east of Gaza City March 30, 2018..
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
Israel has a war to win, but it’s not against young men from Gaza in skinny jeans and sandals.
It’s against the hard-line regime in Tehran and its foot soldiers in Syria and Lebanon. To the north, men like Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, loom on Israel’s border, beckoning Israel’s generals like the gathering clouds of an otherwise warm spring day. It’s a tempest that’s brewing, to be sure, and if it weren’t for the pesky problem at Israel’s feet (Gaza), the Jewish state would be pouring all of its attention into dealing with it.
Of course, the Palestinians are not a problem to simply wave one’s hand at. They are people who have known nothing but suffering ever since the Arab leaders made the disastrous decision to go to war against Israel in their name in 1948. But the Palestinians are incredibly intelligent and particularly creative at finding ways to poke holes in Israel’s security architecture. “Let’s light a kite on fire and send it over the border!” “Grab a knife from the kitchen drawer and watch Israeli Jews flee in fear!”“Send boys to the front of the crowd – Israel will look bad if they get hurt.” The imagination of people in dire situations knows no bounds. Revenge, survival, and the idea of betterment is all they have to live for.
But, the Palestinians in Gaza have been treated the worst by the undemocratic ideologues (and many would say unreformed terrorists) who purport to represent them. I’m taking about Hamas.
The Islamist group, which claimed to renounce its military wing in 2006 when it formed a political entity, is considered to be behind the weeks of protests at Israel’s doorstep – which were ostensibly about the “right of return” (the idea that all Palestinian refugees should return to live in Israel) but in reality were a play for public relations by Hamas.
Reports have emerged that Hamas canceled school to augment the presence at the border crossing into Israel. It’s been said that modern states hold a monopoly on violence; Hamas holds a monopoly on sending its best and brightest to be fodder on the global stage.
At the time of their official rise to power in 2006 it was argued that Islamists – those who want to wed Islam and politics – like Hamas were ideal agents for bringing democracy to the Middle East, because it was they who represented the largest identity in the Middle East, not Western-styled democrats educated abroad. But in the past 12 years since it came to power, Hamas has spent more time thinking up ways to cause public relations headaches for Israel than it has improving the lot of its citizens. Why else would Hamas refuse humanitarian aid from Israel?
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, there was only the sound of crickets during the latest crisis. That alone shows it was a Hamas conflict, not a Palestinian one. The octogenarian leader of that Palestinian enclave, Mahmoud Abbas, has demonstrated his ire over the new US embassy in Jerusalem by recalling his representative to the US and four European countries. If he plays his cards right, he may find a future Democratic administration in Washington willing to recognize east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital – with a second new US embassy to boot. Significantly, such recognition could occur despite Israeli objections. Thus, for now, Abbas has different goals than Hamas: the latter clearly believes it has little to lose and only much to gain by provoking Israel.
One must wonder whether this “march” from Gaza was really just a distraction to keep Israel from focusing on the more existential threat of Iran having a stronghold in the neighboring countries to the north of Israel. Regardless, whether it’s by design or just a feature from the vantage point of Tehran, Israel is getting blasted in the news over Gaza at a time when it desperately needs to gin up international support for the looming war against Iran and its proxies in Syria and Lebanon.
There is a phrase uttered at the end of Passover: “next year in Jerusalem.” It traditionally meant that one day the Jews would return to the holy land. But, in effect, all of Israel’s enemies seem to be saying a different phrase: next year in Palestine. To Gazans that apparently means rushing the border into Israel; to West Bankers, US recognition of a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem; to Iran it means a military invasion of the Jewish state.
Which of these challenges does Israel handle first? The answer is that it has no choice but to handle them all at the same time. Although the different strategies employed by Israel’s enemies have varying degrees of severity, they all in some way present a significant threat to the security of the Jewish state.The author is a nonresident associate fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.
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