US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets PA head Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, in February. The US mistakenly thinks that giving Palestinian leaders a vision for the future of two states will do away with the Palestinian desire to eliminate Israel, says the writer.(photo credit: Mark Schiefelbein/Reuters)

Last week, I was speaking to one of Israel’s leading national security experts whose first question was: “Why has America turned its back on Israel?” This was after President Joe Biden chose to abstain rather than veto a UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire but one not “contingent on Hamas releasing its 134 hostages.” The WSJ states, “That condition, on which the US had previously insisted, has been dropped.” 

A victory for Hamas, Iran, China, and Russia.

My colleague’s next questions were: “Doesn’t President Biden understand that the vast majority of Israelis polled are in favor of a Rafah operation, as leaving Hamas standing would mean victory for the terrorists? Doesn’t the president know that Israel’s opposition also demands a Rafah operation?” 

The administration tries to make it about Bibi, but my friend says this decision against a Rafah operation is about Israel and her survival, undermining the Jewish State’s deterrence in a neighborhood where inactions are viewed as weakness and opportunities to strike.

Nay-sayers aren’t wrong to predict that the “day after” Israel militarily defeats Hamas by degrading its infrastructure and bases of operation, an insurgency already being planned by the terrorist group will emerge, that the “resistance” will not be gone, and will find ways to regain strength. That is true up to a point.  

The brainwashing of hatred for Jews and delegitimization of Israel by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which directly led to the infiltration and massacre, would have continued no matter what Israel did post-October 7. The next generation would have been as radicalized as the previous ones even if the Hamas massacres had not occurred. That is a sad truth. 

The administration mistakenly thinks that by giving Palestinians and their leaders a vision for the future of two states, one Jewish and the other Arab, that the Palestinians will feel fulfilled, end their desire to eliminate Israel, and not view the Jews as colonialist thieves of Arab lands. If only that were true. 

There are potential Palestinian leaders who I know want a path forward living alongside a Jewish state, but they are marginalized because they haven’t been imprisoned – or killed an Israeli. 

Compare Hamas in Rafah to ISIS in Raqqa

AMERICA’S INSISTENCE on no significant ground operation in Rafah, in essence allowing Hamas to survive, flies in the face of what we did with ISIS (“Daesh”). The Islamic State and Hamas are both forms of radical Sunni extremism with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.

We didn’t stop halfway in attempting to defeat ISIS, as the administration is insisting Israel do. We knew we had to, as best as we could, eliminate their base of operation, as well as kill as many terrorists as possible and keep them on the run. We knew this was only one battle in a generational war against radical Islamism, but that didn’t stop us from choosing the strategically correct course, degrading ISIS as much as possible. If we hadn’t persevered against ISIS, they would have survived, and we wouldn’t have been able to save thousands of women from being ISIS sex slaves. I visited the Yazidi refugee camps in Iraq and met with survivors.

So why is there a different standard for what Israel wants to do with Hamas? Israeli men and women are being sexually abused in captivity today, just like the ISIS hostages.

ISIS is by no means gone. According to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, since March 2023, ISIS “claimed responsibility for 1,121 attacks worldwide… killing or injuring 4,770 people.” That does not include the massacre ISIS-K committed in Moscow this month. Does that mean the US was wrong to do what it did, coming as close as possible to eradicating the territorial conquest of the ISIS caliphate and locking up thousands of ISIS terrorists?

Of course not. 

Just as the US continues to track down ISIS operatives around the world, Israel will continue to extract terrorists from Gaza and track down the terrorists of October 7 worldwide, who continue to plan their genocide of the Jews.

By damaging but not eliminating ISIS, you put them in a defensive posture, unable to plan more sophisticated attacks, which minimizes their inevitable insurgencies. Mowing the grass is the least bad option with radical Sunni Islamism for the time being until deradicalization is somehow implemented over decades. For Shi’ite radical Islamism in Iran, the answer is more straightforward: Regime change is the most effective strategy in the future.

YET, THE Biden administration wants Israel to leave its equivalent of ISIS, Hamas, in place with six intact battalions and a land area to operate and plan terrorism from. As war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said, a Rafah mission is “imperative.” The ISIS caliphate was 6,000 miles away from American shores, while Israel’s radical Islamist terrorists live meters from Israeli residential buildings. 

So, let’s manage expectations and understand that complete success in destroying jihadist enemies is impossible. If only 10% of the Muslim world is radicalized, that is still a hundred million people. In Egypt, in their last election, 2013,  80% of the population voted for Salafists or the Muslim Brotherhood. That is about 80 million people voting for radicals. 

No wonder Egyptian President Sisi doesn’t want Palestinian refugees brainwashed by Hamas’s Muslim Brotherhood ideology to enter the Sinai and destabilize their fragile country.

Forcing Israel to leave Hamas in place in Rafah undermines Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian, and American security interests. Stopping Israel from destroying as much of the Hamas territorial presence, its underground infrastructure, and its money laundering network as possible will be seen as a victory for Hamas, that its use of civilians and hostages as weapons of war has paid off. 

Hamas can no more be allowed territory than ISIS can

ACCORDING TO John Spencer, an urban combat expert at West Point, Israel has done a fantastic job in minimizing civilian deaths, especially considering that Hamas uses the death of civilians who are placed in harm’s way to manipulate the naïve West. 

The ratio of 1.3 civilian deaths to every terrorist killed compared to the UN’s Hamas-based statistics that show, on average, nine civilians dying for every terrorist proves Israel is doing a masterful job in minimizing civilian casualties. As for the government’s dysfunction in not being able to decide on a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah or coordinate a plan for civilian control the day after, that’s another story. 

Like ISIS, Hamas needs to be removed from its last territorial sanctuary in Rafah. There are also months, if not years, more work to dismantle the underground tunnel system. Will that be enough to end Hamas? No, but doing it is incredibly important to minimize future atrocities, allow Israel to be perceived as a victor, and America to be seen as a reliable ally that doesn’t abandon its friends. 

If the Biden Administration doesn’t allow Israel to treat Hamas as we treated ISIS, it will hamper the West’s war against Islamist terrorism and undermine our Arab allies. If Hamas stands because there is no Rafah operation, then like a house of cards, the hoped-for pan-Arab and reformed Palestinian civilian authority that is supposed to govern Gaza will fall.

It is unpalatable for Israel to agree to an “immediate ceasefire leading to a lasting and sustainable ceasefire,” while Hamas is mainly intact, and it dismays almost all Israelis to have the US fail to vote against that.

This article originally appeared in the The Jerusalem Post April 1, 2024.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network and the senior security editor of The Jerusalem Report. He regularly briefs member of Congress and their foreign policy advisers about the Middle East and is the director of Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm in the region.

By mepin