Viewpoint: Krauthammer's lesson

A sovereign country cannot sit by as part of its territory is devastated, even it is on the “periphery.”

A fire burns in scrubland on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, near kibbutz Gevaram (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A fire burns in scrubland on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, near kibbutz Gevaram
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
THE NUMBER of fires set by the incendiary balloons and kites from Gaza will soon hit the 500 mark and the arc of their range is extending continuously, just as the Qassam missile menace from Gaza originally did. Residents in the Gaza perimeter communities breathe in ashes and their fields of golden wheat have been charred black by flames. Firefighters battling blazes round the clock in the severe heat have been stretched to their limit. Nevertheless, Israel continues with its policy of relative restraint. Despite calls from within the cabinet to have the IDF attack the kite launchers as they would attack rocket launching crews, a demand endorsed by 83% of the respondents in a recent poll, the government has only sporadically and belatedly assented to this call.
Part of it is a cost-benefit calculus. Regional Cooperation Minister Tzahi Hanegbi distinguished in a radio interview between economic terror and lethal terror. By Hanegbi’s logic, the picture is not pretty but bearable. A full-scale war with people in shelters is infinitely worse. It will result in bad PR for Israel and perhaps antisemitic outbreaks in Europe and, above all, loss of life and limb, and this counsels the government to abstain from a harsh response. This form of Hamas roulette assumes that the damage will continue to be limited to property. One of the incendiary balloons landed the other day in a kindergarten and was fortunately extinguished before the burlap and the preschoolers caught fire.
Then you have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s focused policy on Iran. The regional anti-Iranian coalition must be preserved at all costs and scenes of collateral damage in Gaza could play to the advantage of Iran, Hamas’s chief patron.
While these are serious arguments, they are outweighed by the counter arguments. A sovereign country cannot sit by as part of its territory is devastated, even it is on the “periphery.” Would Hanegbi be as analytical if his neighbor’s gardens were ravaged by fire in toney Mevasseret Zion? Yes, throughout Israel’s history different areas of the country alternatively bore the disproportionate brunt of enemy actions but were not asked to bear the costs indefinitely, without seeing their government respond to their tormentors.
By our tolerance of this outrage, we again encourage the world to believe that what is intolerable for any other country must be tolerated by Israel. Nor are we gaining friends in the Arab World by restraint. The success of the fire tactics, as seen in a July 5 MEMRI survey of reaction to the incendiary offensive, is encouraging those who do not want to make peace with Israel and still envision its destruction. Makram Muhammad Ahmad, chairman of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Media Regulation and a columnist for the Al-Ahram government daily, says, “Several weeks ago the Palestinians managed to invent a new means of resistance, launching hundreds of burning kites into the fields of the Israeli settlements close to the Gaza border, which have burned thousands of acres of wheat and olive groves and caused the settlers heavy losses.” The success of the kite offensive can easily efface such heroics as the Mossad’s wholesale removal of Iranian nuclear documents.
The refusal to countenance a military solution to the problem leads to flights of fantasy beginning with the Lysistratas of Women Wage Peace who are undeterred that Gaza is ruled by the misogynistic Hamas and believe that women on both sides can reach peace. Then we get the inevitable Marshall plan for Gaza approach in the vain belief that all it takes is a rise in Gaza's living standards to moderate or control the conflict. The latest sophisticated version is a paper by the Washington Institute's visiting military fellow Sami Turjeman, who commanded the 2014 Operation Protective Edge against Hamas.
This latest remake of Gaza reconstruction will fail as its predecessors failed, because Hamas is motivated by Islamic revolution and Israel’s destruction, not by economic prosperity. The people leading revolutions as Lenin pointed out in “What Is to Be Done” are not the downtrodden with nothing to lose but intellectuals with leisure time on their hands, who take their daily bread as a given. Flooding Gaza with largesse is a product of the mindset that gave us the JCPOA and the belief that the Ayatollahs could come in from the cold on a magic carpet of money. That money was used to finance the activities of Qassem Soleimani’s Qods Force and this will again be true for Gaza.
A Marshall plan for Gaza is simply the equivalent of a Marshall plan for Germany minus denazification, with the money passing through the hands of Himmler and Goering. There can be no reconstruction, only destruction, while Hamas remains in power.
True, after the failure of Iraq and Libya, regime change and military occupation is not the flavor of the month but then watchful waiting does not always bring results. We may rue the day that we let Assad return to power in Syria together with his Iranian minders. The situation will not change unless Hamas is convinced that its very survival is on the line and that it can sustain losses that are more than temporary (for example the reestablishment of Jewish communities in northern Gazan contiguous with Israel). The constant drumbeat that if Hamas is eliminated the result will be anarchy achieves the exact opposite result. Hamas is emboldened by the knowledge that it is considered the lesser evil and enjoys quasi-immunity.
Anarchy in Gaza is problematic but preferable to Hamas rule. Israel is better off confronting a hodgepodge of jihadi groups operating in a confined area without miles of desert or impenetrable mountainous terrain for concealment than a terror state directing everything from attack tunnels, missile factories and incendiary kite campaigns, and endowed with modern mass communication channels.
The idea of Hamas as a frenemy is a throwback to Oslo and the belief that Israel’s security could be contracted out to thugs, who were not constrained by the courts or human rights organizations. This fallacy was decried by the late and much lamented Charles Krauthammer in 2002 at the height of Arafat’s war of terror: “We have now learned, to our sadness and horror, that one cannot contract out the safety of the Zionist experiment to others.” Unfortunately, this lesson has been quickly lost and must be painfully relearned again.