This article first appeared in the American Spectator https://spectator.org/gaza-hamas-terrorism/
By: John C. Wohlstetter, Senior Fellow
For decades, terrorists have relied on three weapons to fight the West: our technology, our media, and our laws and associated values.
First, they turned our technology against us: on September 11, 2001, they converted civilian jetliners into flying bombs; then and thereafter they used global media access to transmit their messages to the world while denigrating their adversaries; and, finally, they used access to our law courts and the constitutional privileges intended for America’s citizenry to wage total war against our civilization. In essence, our struggle is a Manichean one between imperfect civilization (us) and perfect barbarism (them). And, arguably, we are losing.
A prefatory note: This war did not make for a “clash of civilizations.” Israel’s adversaries do not even engage in the pretense of being civilized. Launching rockets from sites in close proximity to civilians is a war crime, as is targeting Israeli civilians with such weaponry. Deliberately seeking to maximize Palestinian deaths (knowing that the great majority of the global media players predictably will attribute such deaths to Israeli retaliation) is surely another war crime. Even worse, this war crime often takes the form of moving their own civilian population — including children — into places they have been warned that Israel intends to target in short order.
This particular form of atrocity is one perhaps without precedent in human history. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, to take history’s most notorious genocidal trio, actively liquidated those they especially despised and were morally indifferent to countless millions killed in their wars. But they never thought of moving civilians into harm’s way to increase the number of innocent people killed as a means of gaining worldwide support. Their attitude towards such mass casualties was best summed up by Stalin’s infamous formulation: “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Had these murderers seen advantage in using the Hamas tactic, they’d likely have done it. But the reaction overwhelmingly would have been vociferous condemnation, by opinion leaders and the general public alike. Today, many opinion leaders and their publics have maintained a discreet silence in the face of open Nazi-like assaults against Jews, both in Israel and in major American cities, including Los Angeles and New York.
Alas, the only difference now from earlier episodes is vastly increased intensity of Palestinian aggression. In the 2014 Gaza War, Hamas fired 450 rockets in nine days; this latest round saw Hamas fire over 4,000 in 11 days. Israeli intelligence estimates that Hamas has 15,000 rockets, mostly assembled in Gaza with Iranian supervision. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s estimated 15,000-rocket arsenal in 2006 has grown to some 130,000. And the new terrorist rockets are much more accurate and longer-range. Hamas rained rockets on Tel Aviv for the first time, with Ben-Gurion International Airport also in range.
Hamas publicly thanked Iran for sending money and weapons. And Hamas also thanked its friends in the West for their “enormous support.” (Casualty claims aired by Hamas do not factor in those caused by hundreds of its rockets landing inside Gaza.) In all, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked some 1,000 targets, and even the numbers offered by Hamas show fewer than 300 civilians killed. Had Israel intended to kill civilians, it could easily have killed tens — even hundreds — of thousands; it could have simply flattened Gaza City.
In my 2018 American Spectator article “Palestinian Swastikas: Where’s the Outrage?” I presented numerous examples of Palestinian neo-Nazism, war-crime tactics, and global media complicity. Our current administration publicly equivocating by issuing conflicting statements, while frustrating to the Israelis, is less bad than the openly pro-Palestinian Obama administration (see my late 2016 article, “Obama’s Palestine Punchout”).
This latest conflict was triggered mainly by the success of the Abraham Accords — and the appalling indifference of Team Biden towards them. Those pacts proved that peace with the Palestinians is not a central predicate for Israel to make peace with Arab countries. Round Four truly is Biden’s War, as he waited four weeks to place a call to Israel’s prime minister, before which he had unfrozen Palestinian assets, ditched the Trump approach that had prevented any major conflict in the region, and re-engaged with Iran and the anti-Israel elements at the UN, all without asking for a single concession in return. Instead, Team Biden has opened a concession stand and is serving terrorist customers whatever it can get away with giving them. Tops is Press Secretary Jen Psaki calling the Abraham Accords DOA and not being fired for saying this about the first-ever genuinely amicable peace made between Israel and its territorial neighbors, in 3.75 millennia of Jewish history.
In my 2015 American Spectator article “Will Our Values Make Us Seek Peace With Genocide?” I cited figures from an Israeli scholar’s compilation of 330 Palestinian public opinion polls:
While 93 percent think use of chemical weapons by Israel would be a crime, only 25 percent think that in the converse case of Palestinian use against Israel. He notes that various polls over the past decade show solid Palestinian majorities favoring naming streets after terrorists (61 percent), stab or run over Israelis (78 percent), supporting terrorism inside Israel proper (by a 6 to 1 margin), opposing a two-state solution (over 80 percent v. 12 percent for), and holding an unfavorable opinion of Jews (94 percent). A majority sees no Jewish state in 30 to 40 years.
At some point, perhaps a similar survey now of hundreds of polls will yield useful data. Piecemeal reporting of small numbers of individual polls cannot yield comparably reliable data.
A better clue to Palestinian intentions comes from a major UN speech laying out the Palestinian case. In another 2015 piece of mine, “Rocks on Rosh Hashanah: Golda Was Right,” I noted that Palestine Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas proclaimed in his 2015 address to the UN General Assembly fall session that the “Palestine revolution” — PA-speak for the origin of modern Palestinian nationalism — dates to early 1965. That’s NOT a misprint: 1965. On New Year’s Day 1965, the PLO launched its first terrorist attack on Israel, targeting the National Water Carrier. This came when the entire state of Israel was within the 1949 Green Line — there were zero Israeli settlements then, as these all came after the 1967 Six-Day War. Thus the territory the Palestinians seek to “liberate” is inside Israel proper and would thereby extinguish the Jewish state.
Which brings us to the loopiest argument of all regarding the present conflict: The Palestinians should be supported out of sympathy for the underdog because they are vastly less powerful than the Israelis. Really? By this insane illogic, after Pearl Harbor the world should have been sympathetic to Japan, clearly the underdog in a war that they started with the United States.
Our ancestors were not foolish enough to make such an absurd argument. Nor did our sins — real and imagined — during World War II make Americans of that era think they were not entitled to prevail against monstrous totalitarian enemies. For our time, alas, the jury is still out.
Bottom Line. Who won what and for how long? It is unclear at this writing how the latest conflict actually turned out. Likely it will be weeks, perhaps months, before the open issues below can be fully answered.
(1) Was strong pressure put on Israel by the U.S. in the closing hours of the war to force the Friday 2 a.m. ceasefire?
(2) Were clandestine commitments made by the U.S. to Hamas/PA?
(3) Did one or more Abraham Accord signatories tell Israel that further fighting would stall implementation of the Accords?
(4) How many casualties did Hamas really suffer (it had to be more than the publicly reported numbers)?
(5) Did Israeli public attitudes decisively influence the Benjamin Netanyahu/IDF decision to avoid major ground operations?
(It should be noted that to its credit the administration says it will go through with the $735 million in military aid it has proposed to send Israel. If they mean this and fully follow through, this will prove a major plus.)
One major question appears to have been answered. How far short did Israel fall from its goal of destroying the entire Hamas war/terror infrastructure? Figures just released by the IDF command strongly suggest that Israel did not get anywhere near reaching its primary strategic goal:
Israel estimates that it destroyed 15 to 20 percent of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and some weapons production facilities. It claims to have killed about 200 Hamas operatives and eliminated 30 percent of the tunnels under Gaza used for sheltering militants, housing command systems and moving weaponry around.
One Begin-Sadat Center postwar assessment named Israel the tactical, quantitative winner, but Hamas the strategic, qualitative winner. In this reading, Israel followed the “economic-pragmatic … minds” school of strategy, while Hamas followed the “resistance camp … hearts” school. Due to the change of U.S. administrations, Israeli domestic political paralysis and the overall post-COVID weakness in the West, Hamas prevailed. It re-established the Palestinian Arab relevance in the region and increased the support it got from abroad.
But a second assessment concluded that Hamas lost because it alienated Gaza’s population by using them as human shields. The analysis notes that when called out to celebrate a Hamas victory, not one single member of the general public joined in the post-conflict celebration. To wit:
There are two basic reasons why Hamas is in total disconnect with its Gaza constituency (excepting the 50,000 families who form the hard core of Hamas and are in its employ as a result of Qatari largesse).
First, Gaza’s residents know that Hamas deliberately operates from within the dense neighborhoods in which they live. Though the civilian population is rarely directly hit by the Israeli army, which does everything possible to prevent collateral civilian damage, the psychological toll of being used as a human shield is nevertheless considerable. Israel’s 6,500 strikes mostly involved missiles with a 500 to 750 kilo payload. Israelis now know that Hamas missiles with a payload one-twentieth of that have a nerve-racking impact that can be heard and felt over an area of four to five kilometers (16 to 24 square kilometers). A rocket strike from an Israeli plane with a payload 20 times that amount has a much greater impact, which means half of Gaza’s residents are affected by every strike. Those residents endured that effect 300 times over 12 days, 25 times a day — a level of punishment perhaps only fully understood by Israelis in the “Gaza envelope.”
Even worse is the feeling that for the past 17 years, Gaza’s residents have borne the brunt of repeated rounds of fighting alone. Whereas in the rounds of massive violence that occurred in 1987 and 2000, the burden was equally shared with Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus, Jerusalem, and Hebron, in the past 17 years (during which time terrorism in those places sharply declined) the residents of Gaza suffered over 95% of the psychological and material burden and loss of life of “liberating” Palestine. [Emphasis mine.]
Which of these contrasting assessments proves true may not become clear for some time. And future events could reverse one or more of the above perceived consequences.
But above all, one thing already seems crystal clear: Terrorists have succeeded anew in hijacking our technology, media, and laws and values for hostile use against the nation that is by far America’s — and the free world’s — best ally in the Mideast.
Our ancestors would never have stood for this. They were made of far sterner stuff. We may be able to win while tying one hand behind our back. But can we do so if we tie up both hands, and mute ourselves to boot? We seem determined to test that proposition.
John Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (Discovery Institute Press, Second edition 2014).