How to beat Hamas

First step is to stop holding "political" leadership of Hamas immune.

haniyeh 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
haniyeh 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
One of eight-year-old Osher Twito's legs was amputated after he was wounded, along with his older brother, by a Kassam in Sderot on Saturday. Over the weekend, 39 rockets hit Sderot and the surrounding area. Yesterday, 250 Sderot residents blocked the entrance to Jerusalem and protested in front of the Prime Minister's Office. The residents of Sderot are demanding an end to the bombardment of their city. They are right. The government must not act as if Sderot matters less than Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or anywhere else in Israel. Either Israeli lives and sovereignty mean something, or Israel is in effect treating the assault of its civilians as acceptable and inevitable. This must be put to a stop, but in a way that defeats Hamas, rather than playing into its hands. There are two things that Hamas wants, and two more that it really fears. Hamas would love a repeat of the "humanitarian crisis," in which the international community sides against Israel for slightly reducing electricity supplies by cutting fuel to Gaza. Israel was completely justified in taking this step, but Europe and the US, which should have exposed Hamas's ploy, acted as dupes of the terrorist regime and blamed, or did not sufficiently defend, Israel. The success of Hamas's "humanitarian crisis" strategy led directly to its decision to destroy the border with Egypt and to escalate Kassam rocket attacks against Israel. So the cynical Western response against Israel completely backfired, assuming that these governments are not interested in strengthening Hamas. The other option Hamas hopes Israel will take is to invade Gaza in force. Hamas would be happy if many Palestinians and Israelis were killed in such an operation, which as things stand now, would not permanently weaken the organization unless Israel reoccupied Gaza or shut down the weapons flow into Gaza. This brings us to the two options that Hamas does not want and which Israel should pursue. The first is to stop holding the "political" leadership of Hamas immune. It is Hamas's "political" leaders, not the terrorists in the field, who decide whether to continue shelling Sderot. The Hamas regime is not the only one that supports terrorism; Iran and Syria do so as well. But Hamas is the only entity in control of a swath of territory - a quasi-state with ministers, an army, and all the trappings - that openly takes credit for terror attacks. For all their talk of "martyrdom," the record shows that Hamas leaders are not interested in losing their own lives and will stop attacking Israel to save themselves. This is what happened after their leaders Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were successfully targeted by Israel. This too was roundly criticized internationally, but it was effective. The second option that is long overdue is to publicly demand that Egypt do what it takes to shut down the weapons flow into Gaza. Israel must make clear that it will not continue to treat Egypt as a mediator and supporter of peace unless it changes tack, and that the border problem will no longer be subordinated to any other issue. As part of this determined stance, Israel should do what Egypt anyway accuses Jerusalem of doing: press Washington to substantially downgrade its relations with Cairo. So long as Cairo believes that the US and Israel care more about Egyptian feelings than shutting down the weapons flow, Egypt will do next to nothing. And so long as that weapons flow continues, there is little point in sending the IDF, at great cost, to crush a terror infrastructure that will be rebuilt in a few months. One unacceptable option is a continuation of the status quo. Prime Minister Olmert boasts frequently of "restoring deterrence." Hamas is not being deterred now, Israel is. It is Israel that is caught in a tit-for-tat war of attrition, afraid to engage in a "disproportionate" response. This is precisely the scenario that Ariel Sharon promised would not exist after the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak similarly claimed that Israel would respond massively if attacked after signing Oslo in 1993 and withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000, respectively. They did not. It has become fashionable to talk of stationing NATO troops in Gaza. What Israel really needs, and what Hamas fears most, is not NATO troops, but Western governments unequivocally backing Israel's right to self-defense. This means backing Israel when it holds Hamas leaders accountable and when it demands that Egypt control its own border. This is how Hamas can be defeated without war, while sparing the lives of many Israelis and Palestinians.