March 13, 2008 - This is for all who defend the Palestinians because they are "resisting an occupation" and have no option other than violence. This is for all who justify the Palestinians because Israel is an "oppressor." This is for all who defend the Palestinians because they are the "underdog."
After members of Hamas broke through the Gaza/Egypt border in January they came back with Iranian Grad rockets, much more powerful than the Qassams they are used to using. They immediately fired those rockets at Israel's southern cities, with devastating effect.
The symbolism reaches far beyond the event itself. We are getting a snapshot of the future.
It is also a flash from the past. During the Lebanon war of summer 2006 Hezbollah unleashed its missile capability against Israel in the north. Israel's northern cities were devastated. And there was no way to strike back. Since Hezbollah was hiding in civilian areas, Israel could not strike at Hezbollah without appearing to attack Lebanon. Israel's efforts to eliminate the missile threat in the north were futile, and the threat remains, stronger than before, the missiles poised for firing at any moment of Hezbollah's choosing.
The Palestinians are learning from Hezbollah's success, and are seeking to duplicate it. They have learned the Hezbollah tactic of firing at Israel from civilian areas, using their own people as human shields. And they will find more powerful weapons than Qassams to throw at Israel. And they will do so with the help of Iran.
Iran now has proxies fighting Israel in both the north and the south. Its hope is that the West Bank will also fall under its influence once the occupation ends, and it will have a front against Israel from the east. It doesn't need one from the west - the Mediterranean Sea will take care of that.
How real is the threat from the West Bank? Hezbollah activity in the West Bank is becoming more visible. And today the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah, repeated its demand that Mahmoud Abbas fire Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and form an alliance with Hamas. In Ramallah they distributed a leaflet saying: "We renew our call to President Abbas to fire Salam Fayyad and form a new government that would not abandon the armed struggle." They also called on Abbas to cut off contact with Israel and stop the peace process. The Gazan malignancy is spreading.
We are now witnessing the intermediate stages of a strategy to surround Israel with batteries of increasingly powerful missiles, capable eventually of reaching its major cities. On the ground this is already happening. We have further evidence in the pronouncements of Iran and its partner Hezbollah.
Last month Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in remarks that were televised, called Israel a "filthy germ" and a "savage beast" established by Western powers to interfere in the Middle East. Just a few days earlier Muhammad Ali Jafari, Commander-on-Chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, stated: "In the near future, we will witness the destruction of the cancerous germ of Israel by the powerful and competent hands of the Hezbollah combatants."
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki also predicted Israel's demise: "The West has tried to impose a fabricated regime on the Middle East but even after 60 years, the Zionist regime has neither gained any legitimacy nor played any role in this region." And with astounding irony he continued: "The era of imposing policies on other states by military threats is over. The nations in the region will no longer surrender to any threats."
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah corroborated the Iranian threats. He stated that Hezbollah is preparing for a new war with Israel within the coming months. Speaking to a rally of thousands he proclaimed: "No one can protect the entire Israeli home front from our missiles. If they think of entering the south, to any valley, any hill, I swear you [Israelis] will carry your tanks and soldiers and your entire army will collapse under the feet of Imad Mughniyah.... Destroying Israel is an inevitable outcome, a historic law, a divine doctrine. When Israel won't have an army it won't survive, and that's what I said about Mughniyah's blood leading to the elimination of Israel."
Destroying Israel? So maybe this isn't really about an "occupation" after all? Hold that thought; we will come back to it.
So who is Imad Mughniyah? At first he was Hezbollah's head of security; later he became its chief of staff. He was one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, not only by Israel but also the U.S. Among his exploits: In 1985 he hijacked a TWA airliner to Beirut, and one passenger was killed. During that same period, through his planning and execution, dozens of foreigners were kidnapped in Lebanon. He masterminded Hezbollah's international terrorist attacks. He was responsible for two attacks in Buenos Aires: against the Israeli Embassy in 1992 and a Jewish community center in 1994. More than 100 were killed in those attacks.
Mughniyah was also associated with the fateful bombings of the Beirut Barracks and U.S. Embassy in 1983. He was at the top of the FBI's most wanted list, with a five-million-dollar price on his head. Only bin Laden surpassed him.
And Mughniyah had ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard and symbolized Iran's presence in Lebanon.
The ostensible occasion for Nasrallah's ire was Mughniyah's death by a car bomb on February 12. Hezbollah and Iran immediately blamed Israel. Israel has denied it. But no matter, Israel is guilty until proven innocent. Nevertheless, Mughniyah was involved in a lot of infighting, and even his widow claims that Syria was behind his death. As proof she notes that Syria has refused to allow the Iranians to investigate it. Mike McConnell, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, believes that either Syria or factions within Hezbollah itself may be responsible. But in the Middle East it doesn't matter. When a Muslim terrorist meets the fate that he deserves, the fault always lies with Israel.
So Hezbollah now proclaims as its sacred duty the sacrifice of Israel's people on the altar of a mass murderer. And not only Israel's people. It has also pledged to attack Jewish targets around the world.
And now back to the Palestinians. They say they are fighting an occupation, and the world believes them. But in the context of what we have just seen with Iran and Hezbollah, the Palestinians are an integral part of a much greater enterprise. The object is not to end the occupation - in fact it never was. The object is to end Israel. But to Hamas, Israel's very existence is the occupation.
Yossi Klein Halevi writes:
The Palestinian struggle is no longer about creating an independent state. It is about being a front-line participant in the Iranian-led jihad to destroy Israel, evolving from a nationalist to a religious war. The thousands of celebrants in Gaza who, following the yeshiva massacre, offered prayers of thanksgiving in the mosques and distributed candies to passersby weren't only indulging in feelings of revenge for Israel's recent military incursion but heralding the coming jihadist victory over the enemies of God.
Indeed, it seems that Hamas and its terrorist allies are doing everything they possibly can to prevent a separate Palestinian state. Whenever any serious movement towards peace takes place, they can be counted on to destroy it by escalating their violence. Just today Palestinians fired at least 10 mortar shells and 30 rockets and counting into southern Israel, two of them hitting Sderot. So much for encouraging the peace talks that are supposed to be going on.
The Palestinians say they want an end to the occupation. Kadima, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's political party, was elected on a platform for ending the occupation, for extending Israel's withdrawal from Gaza to the West Bank as well. One might have expected the Palestinians to welcome this. But instead they cranked up their war in the south, sending a clear message that this is what Israel can expect in the east if it withdraws from there too.
So why shouldn't the Palestinians want to end the occupation, if they are suffering so much from it? Why settle for half the pita when you can get it all? This is not a war to end the occupation, if indeed it ever was. This is a war to end Israel. And the way to end Israel is to cut off every avenue for peace while you build your capability to strike Israeli cities at will.
To get away with this war, the Palestinians need to keep selling their victim image, and to convince the world that the occupation is as strong and oppressive as ever. And so they engage in a bizarre game of semantics, claiming that Gaza is still occupied even though every last Israeli left the territory three years ago. As Eran Lerman writes in his cogent analysis:
Why should any electricity be provided, under the present circumstances, from the Ashkelon power station to people who fire at it? The facile answer from the UN and the humanitarian NGOs is that Israel is still "the occupying power." But this raises the question whether international laws are a sane answer. After all, we not only left Gaza, down to the last inch, but forcibly dragged out each and every living Jew therein, and even the graves of dead ones. Why are we still the occupying power? Because the presence of a terror government forces us to ensure that the avenues of communication into Gaza not be abused for the supply of more means to kill us? The logical loop here is impossible to resolve, since the terror state hides behind the irresponsible claim of statelessness.
This is the most bizarre catch-22 of all! Israel disengaged completely from Gaza, but is still called the occupying power. Why? Because it still exercises control over the border. Why? Because Palestinians are attacking Israel from Gaza and Israel wants to keep the weapons out! Therefore, if Israel is still "occupying" Gaza, it is because the Palestinians insist!
Clearly, if there were no traffic into Gaza of weapons used against Israeli citizens, there would be no need for any Israeli vigilance over the Gaza border. And therefore no "occupation." Now just what part of that doesn't the world understand?
We do not understand this conflict until we see the Palestinian "resistance" as part of something greater: a proxy war against Israel that is being waged by Iran, a jihad, a final overturning of the naqba (or "catastrophe") by which Palestinians describe Israels creation.
It has long been known that Hezbollah is Iran's surrogate in the north. But Iran has also been extending its influence into Gaza. As Klein Halevi writes:
Ironically, Hamas was initially more reluctant than Fatah to enter into an Iranian alliance, precisely because the Sunni Hamas takes religion more seriously than Fatah and was loathe to accept the authority of the Iranian Shiites. But that squeamishness ended three years ago with a formal alliance, orchestrated by the Damascus-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, and today Hamas is an integral part of the Iranian war against Israel. Iran has trained hundreds of Hamas operatives - and, according to the former intelligence chief, continues to fund individual members of Fatah's Al Aqsa Brigades. Iran's goal is twofold: to extend its influence in the Arab world, and to transform itself, via proxies, into a frontline confrontation state with Israel.
So instead of the popular picture of little lone Palestine standing up to the Israeli behemoth, what we really have is an 800-pound Iranian gorilla in the back of the room helping its Palestinian proxies slowly tighten the noose around Israel from all sides. If the Palestinians wanted peace, they could simply start practicing it - stop the rockets and allow the talks to proceed. There is enough domestic as well as international pressure on Israel to make sure that concessions will be made. But why should Palestinians settle for only half, when the whole seems finally within reach?
Many believe that Israel's way out of this should be to declare a ceasefire with Hamas. But there is no need to declare a ceasefire. If the Palestinians stop trying to build up their rocket war, Israel will stop trying to stop them. A ceasefire declaration would play right into the jihad.
How would Hamas use a prolonged ceasefire, given the lessons we learned from the bitter years of Hezbollah's build-up in Lebanon (now resumed, in breach of 1701 and under UNIFIL's noses)? And what would this do to the already tattered standing of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Palestinian society?
And Klein Halevi answers:
A ceasefire with Hamas - which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seems to be implementing even as he denies it - may well be the worst option of all. Hamas will likely use that interim period to turn itself into a second Hezbollah, equipped with Iranian weapons. And when Hamas feels empowered to break the ceasefire and resume its attacks, Israel will face a far more formidable enemy.
Dealing with Iran should not have to mean attacking Iran militarily. Recognizing the source of the threat, pressuring Iran through public opinion and through meaningful sanctions, can go a long way towards putting out the fire. Open war with Iran would be a disaster for the entire world. But that could still come as long as people in places that matter keep looking the other way.
One such person is U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who badly needs a copy of Middle East for Dummies. Here is what he said today to an Islamic summit in Senegal's capital Dakar: "Israel's disproportionate and excessive use of force has killed and injured many civilians including children.... I condemn these actions and call on Israel to cease such acts." How about mentioning the Qassams? How about mentioning Iran? How about mentioning Hamas deliberately putting "civilians including children" in harm's way? But this was an Islamic summit, and Ban apparently felt the need to pander to it.
So that's it, folks. Iran is prosecuting a proxy war on several fronts, and Ban's solution is to pressure - Israel! They must be laughing in Tehran. Ban does not want a "disproportionate" use of force. Would he like a proportionate use of force? How about one rocket fired into Gaza City for every rocket fired into Sderot? Maybe that would satisfy him.
By focusing the vitriol on Israel for responding to the provocations of Hamas, Ban and many others like him are enabling this terror war. They are helping to make certain it will continue until, God forbid, it becomes an open war with Iran for Israel's survival. Israel is becoming convinced that no solution can be reached in Gaza until Iran's role is addressed. "Israel will not exist side by side with this Iranian entity three kilometers from Sderot and 10 kilometers from Ashkelon," former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told Army Radio. And Klein Halevi states:
To deal effectively with the jihad requires an awareness that Israel is in fact at war with the Iranian regime, which manipulates proxies along Israel's borders, supplying them with weapons and training, and energizing them with the promise of imminent victory.
So why should anybody care? Because the price of Armageddon is too high, not only for Israel and the Palestinians but for everyone. Concentrating the pressure on Israel while Iran presses its jihad through its Palestinian proxies completely misses the root of the problem and pushes Israel into a desperate situation, in which the present conflict becomes more and more a fight for Israel's survival. As the rockets increase in number, in range, and in power, as inevitably they will, staving off a cataclysmic showdown becomes increasingly unlikely.
I would love to pressure Israel to end the occupation, if doing so would actually mean there would be peace. But this occupation seems to have a life of its own. It just doesn't want to end. Israel disengaged from Gaza, leaving the Palestinians to govern themselves, but Gaza won't disengage from Israel. The Gazans are following the withdrawing Israelis all the way into the Negev. They smuggle in weapons by the ton, and when Israel tries to control the flow they accuse Israel of still occupying Gaza. The rockets keep falling and the Qassams morph into Grads. How does this create any incentive for Israel to start uprooting settlements in the West Bank?
The Palestinians have far more control over their own destiny than they want spectators to believe. The ostensible resistance to an occupation that the Palestinians don't really seem to want to end masks a holy war whose aim is not Israel's withdrawal but its destruction. Meanwhile world reaction continues to push the parties toward the precipice.
Klein Halevi concludes:
So long as the international community tries to create a Palestinian state without seriously confronting the jihadists, Iran and its proxies will continue to make peace impossible - not by "derailing" negotiations, but by making those negotiations irrelevant.
The whole world wants an end to this conflict before it grows into a regional war.
Surprise. It already has.
Abu Toameh, Khaled. "Aksa Brigades Tell Abbas to Fire Fayad, Band with Hamas." Jerusalem Post, March 13, 2008.
Associated Press. "Hezbollah Becoming More Visible in West Bank After Mughniyah Death." Haaretz, March 13, 2008.
Cooper, Helen. "Gaza Pitfalls in Every Path." New York Times, March 3, 2008.
El-Kodhary, Taghreed and Isabel Kershner. "As Israelis Pull Out of Gaza, Hamas Celebrates Its Rocketry." New York Times, March 4, 2008.
Haaretz Service. "UN Chief: Ahmadinejad's Verbal Attacks on Israel Intolerable." Haaretz, February 21, 2008.
Issacharoff, Avi, Yuval Azoulay, Mijal Grinberg, Jonathan Lis and Reuters. "At Last 30 Qassam Rockets Fired into Israel from Gaza since Wednesday." Haaretz, March 13, 2008.
Jerusalem Post Staff. "Over 20 Kassams Pound Western Negev." Jerusalem Post, March 13, 2008.
Jerusalem Post Staff. "Mugniyeh's Widow Claims Syria Behind His Assassination." Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2008.
Klein Halevi, Yossi. "The Iranian-Israeli War." The New Republic, March 11, 2008.
Lerman, Eran. "Israel's Terrible Choices in Gaza." MidEastWeb.org, March 12, 2008.
Melman, Yossi. "ANALYSIS: Hezbollah Terror Chief Was More Wanted Than Nasrallah." Haaretz, February 13, 2008.
Reuters. "Ban: Israel must halt 'excessive force' against Palestinians." Haaretz, March 13, 2008.
Stern, Yoav. "Hezbollah Chief: We're Preparing for War with Israel in Coming Months." Haaretz, February 23, 2008.
Stern, Yoav, Amos Harel, Yuval Azoulay and Barak Ravid. "U.S. Spy Chief: Hezbollah May Be Behind Mughniyah Killing." Haaretz, February 17, 2008.
Peace with Realism