Category Archives: Hamas

Why should the US care if Hamas moves against Israel from Lebanon?

Source: Getty Images

With Iranian help, Hamas, which controls Gaza, is creating a presence in Hezbollah’s backyard in Lebanon. Should it be of any concern to American security interests that Iran supports both of these terrorist organizations? 

The answer is yes. An emergent and unpredictable Hamas military presence in Lebanon could destabilize the whole region. This is because Hamas may not feel as restrained to act in Lebanon as in Gaza, where it fills the role of being the de facto power. Palestinian Hamas knows it would not primarily bear the consequence of Israeli retaliation for its actions emanating from Lebanon. It does not take much imagination to understand that this could spiral out of control into a regional war — and possibly throw a wrench into America’s pivot toward China.

Read the rest from the Hill.

Who is winning the Gaza War of Attrition?

Published in the October 11, 2021 issue of the Jerusalem Report.

Image source: Amir Cohen, Reuters

During a recent presentation, I was asked how Israel could get rid of Hamas from Gaza. My answer surprised and upset her. I said, you can’t. She also was displeased when I described what mowing the grass meant. More on that later.
Welcome to Israel’s unending War of Attrition with the jihadists of Gaza. In 2005, prime minister Ariel Sharon showed a leopard could change its spots. The champion of Israel’s settlement movement in the disputed territories, Sharon, completely withdrew Israel’s military and civilian presence from Gaza, the area Israel captured in its defensive of war of 1967. In one bold stroke, Sharon changed the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forever.

But was it for the better? Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20.

The Israeli public was profoundly divided on the wisdom of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Many Israelis thought that the security implications of a complete withdrawal were too risky to take. They remembered just five years earlier, when the Israeli army left Lebanon, it was perceived in the Muslim world as a victory of resistance. Yasser Arafat watched Israel’s retreat from Lebanon, reinforcing the lesson that violent resistance works. Just two months after the Lebanon withdrawal, he started the Second Intifada. A nightmare of homicide bombers terrorized the heart of Israel and permanently transformed an Israeli electorate from Center-Left to Center-Right.

Once the disengagement began, the images of Israeli soldiers removing their fellow countrymen from Gazan settlements, with tears streaming down the soldiers’ and civilians’ faces, left an indelible imprint on the Israeli psyche. At the time of the disengagement (withdrawal), American media outlets and politicians across the political spectrum said that if the Palestinians of Gaza fire even one rocket or send a suicide bomber into Israel, the world will have Israel’s back.

So how would the Palestinian Authority respond to a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005? This was not just a gesture but the whole shebang, 100% of the disputed land in the Gaza Strip. For good measure, Israel withdrew from four settlements in Samaria, a down payment on a future disengagement from the West Bank if they passed the Gaza test. Many believe that if Sharon didn’t suffer a debilitating stroke, he would have implemented a unilateral disengagement from the West Bank.

Within weeks after Israel withdrew from Gaza, the Palestinians destroyed the thousands of greenhouses Israel left for the Palestinians as a goodwill gesture to provide thousands of jobs for the residents of Gaza. Worse, Palestinians dug up many kilometers of piping from those greenhouses and underground civil infrastructure to build improvised missiles to target Israeli communities on the Gaza border, converting plowshares into swords, as it were. It created a state of continual traumatic stress disorder that continues for tens if not hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians, as Hamas’ range and accuracy of the missiles provided to Hamas has improved every year. This is in addition to the innocent Gazans who suffer retaliation on their doorsteps because Palestinian terrorists deliberately fire their rockets from Palestinian neighborhoods, a war crime by anyone’s definition. What about those European nations that said they would have Israel’s back if missiles from Gaza were directed against Israeli civilians?
Over 1,000 missiles were shot from Gaza into Israel within the first six months after disengagement when Gaza was under Palestinian Authority control, the PA being the supposedly moderate peace partner. With the support of American progressives, those nations vociferously condemned Israeli retaliation, ignoring the disgraceful use of human shields.
When Israel tightened the borders into Gaza, not allowing dual-purpose materials to enter, materials that are used to build missiles and underground tunnels, the progressives called Gaza the world’s largest outdoor prison. Leaving out context became a device to advance an anti-Zionism agenda. Using images of injured Palestinian children who were cynically placed in harm’s way for public relations points to demonize Israel became the standard. In 2007, a Hamas coup ended the PA presence in Gaza, and Israel now had an army of terror on its border for the foreseeable future, creating a long War of Attrition.

Fast forward, 15 years – the War of Attrition endured four significant kinetic wars in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021 fought between Israel and Hamas. That is not counting the continuing incendiary balloon attacks terrorizing Israeli border communities or the accompanying Hamas-controlled riots that feature live fire, Molotov cocktails and rocks, with Palestinian civilians placed between Israeli troops and the terrorists. This month, an Israeli border police officer died of his wounds after Palestinian terrorists targeted him, evoking celebration not only in Gaza but more ominously in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

So why doesn’t Israel just conquer the West Bank and eliminate Hamas, ending the Gazan War of Attrition?

Some say that is precisely what they should do. But most Israeli security and military experts strongly resist this temptation, saying the result will be a continuing nightmare, even worse than the status quo. Israel does not want to be responsible for the lives of millions of Gazans, most of whom despise Israel and are full of antisemitism. Coexistence is not part of their vocabulary.

What about handing it over to the Palestinian Authority?

Let’s start with the unpopularity of the PA among Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. Corruption, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid for their personal benefit, is an excellent place to begin. Despite claiming their pure Islamist virtues, Hamas is a corrupt entity, ruling by fear and intimidation.

Even if Israel gave the keys to Gaza to the PA, the jihadists in their midst would continually undermine their rule, with perpetual civil war a likely result. The unrest would also incite the West Bank to rise up. As it is now, the secret reason that the West Bank remains in PA control is the intelligence and cooperation Israel gives to the PA security forces to suppress Hamas.

So how about giving Gaza back to Egypt, and let them deal with their Arab brethren? Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and any right-thinking Egyptian leader says no-thank-you.

This brings us back to Hamas. Can they change their spots, transforming from jihadists whose charter not only calls for the destruction of Israel but is a blatantly antisemitic manifesto? Like their Iranian patron, their Islamist ideals outweigh the economic benefits of compromise. The carrot and stick approach has not worked. Hamas, if they choose, could transform Gaza into Dubai in a decade, raising all Palestinian economic prospects while having complete autonomy. But they have no interest.

They are willing to wait for as long as it takes to wear out Israel, i.e., attrition, as their best path to conquer and extinguish the Jewish state. The lesson they learned from America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza is that both Israel and America will withdraw or collapse over time. Making the lives of Israelis miserable with repeated wars is their prescription for success. And they know that they have a patron in Iran who can open up a multi-front war against Israel from the north, sending 150,000 missiles throughout the state.

Israel is left with a perpetual, never-ending War of Attrition. There is a continual low-grade conflict terrorizing the Israeli population on the Gaza border with intermittent escalations, sometimes turning into full-scale war. With no other recourse, Israel “mows the grass” every few years to degrade the Gazan arsenal, buying some time before the War of Attrition begins anew. Doing the same thing over and over again is insanity and certainly not sustainable for the long term.

What are the alternatives?
1. A full-scale war to eliminate Hamas with Israel taking over Gaza. Very unlikely.

2. A full-scale war that decimates Hamas but leaves it in power, lengthening the time until the next war.

3. A full-scale war and handing the keys to the current PA. The result may be even more chaotic and destabilize the West Bank.

4. Responding with overwhelming retaliation for every Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad attack rocket attack, using the Powell doctrine of disproportionate use of force. It might work if not for the international community and the current US administration putting Israel upon the ICC docket for war crimes. There is a different standard for Israel and the rest of the world. According to The New York Times, the US mistakenly killed seven civilians to prevent an ISIS bomber from targeting Kabul airport. It turns out there probably wasn’t an ISIS attempt at all. Just imagine the international uproar if Israel killed seven Gazan children and the target wasn’t even real.

5. Waiting for a new and non-corrupt PA leadership to work together to hand Gaza over to their control. That could take generations, if not centuries.

6. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy recommends dialogue with Hamas, reaching a long-term ceasefire. That will only happen if the jihadist leopard changes its spots.

7. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid “proposes a new vision for Gaza”: economics for quiet. That has been tried again and again. Hamas has a Sunni Jihadist ideology and economics along won’t change the situation.

8. The default answer is to continue to mow the grass, the status quo. Not very satisfying or perhaps sustainable, but the default position seems to be the only choice.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has energized the Palestinians of all stripes, making them even more resistant to ending the Gazan War of Attrition. Further American withdrawals from Syria and Iraq will only reinforce the Islamist belief that a Western-oriented Israel will also collapse over time.

According to an article by Dan Diker and Khaled Abu Toameh, “The Taliban’s Palestinian Partners: Implications for the Middle East Peace Process”: Following the Taliban takeover, the Palestinian Authority issued a statement that compared the US withdrawal to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict…. Palestinian sympathy and support for the Taliban have far-reaching implications for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The Islamists, according to their understanding, have humiliated the Americans, making it impossible for the PA to agree to any US peace proposal that would require any Palestinian concessions. If the PLO’s ruling Fatah faction were to align with moderate Arab regimes that oppose Hamas and Taliban-style Islamism and that have signed peace agreements with Israel, they would be perceived by the Palestinian public as weak, pro-Zionist, and pro-American.”

The American withdrawal will reverberate throughout the Middle East, weakening allies and empowering jihadists who will be the ones who determine how long Israel’s War of Attrition will last. But the American withdrawal’s implications and consequences for how the Palestinians will react are under-appreciated and may not even be on the radar of American foreign policy thinkers. That is a blind spot and a danger to American national security interests going forward, not to mention Israel. But it is Israel that has a front-row seat as Iran tries to encircle Israel and create a ring of deterrence to prevent Israel from striking the Iranian nuclear weapon program. 

Is the Palestinian Authority secular or Islamist?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas adjusts his glasses as he listens during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured), in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (photo credit: ALEX BRANDON/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Published in The Jerusalem Post.

Everyone knows Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood and is a religiously-motivated Islamist organization. But what about the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas? The United States and its European allies continually refer to the PA leadership as secular. Is that true?

This is an important question to ask as American ideas for ending the conflict, as well as the Oslo Accords, are premised on the idea that Palestinians and Israelis will make permanent territorial concessions in a final peace agreement. This would be unlikely if the PA’s decisions are based on an Islamist perspective of land transfers, and would explain in part why the conflict is still ongoing. This is not just a theoretical question, as US President Joe Biden again called for a two-state solution in his first remarks to the UN this week.

So let’s read some of the words of Abbas addressing Palestinian university students. This is not unrepresentative of what he has been saying for a lifetime. Ask yourself; does this sound like a secular or an Islamist leader?

“In the name of Allah, the Merciful and Compassionate… Allah the Supreme spoke the truth. We will continue to stand firm and carry out Ribat [religious war for Muslim control] in Jerusalem and its surroundings until Judgment Day. Then the believers will rejoice in the victory of Allah.”

So it needs to be asked: Do the PA and the PLO – like their Hamas brethren – believe that once an Islamic entity ever controls land, it can never be considered legitimate to cede that land to infidels (even if those Jewish infidels were there first, two millennia before the Islamic conquest)? PA Abbas, PA TV, PA-sponsored mosques and media have repeatedly referred to the conflict in Islamist tones as a basis to eliminate Israel from the Islamic Waqf.

If that is true, then the western foundational principles of two states for two peoples are built on quicksand. At the very least, it is counterproductive, but more likely, it is a prescription for future intifadas. Israeli leaders are well aware of this.

In 2004, I spoke to former US president Bill Clinton about the Camp David and Taba negotiations and the need for an “end of conflict” resolution. That would mean once a document was signed between the parties, neither would have any further legal claims. Clinton said both then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former prime minister Ehud Barak insisted upon this, but he didn’t understand why it was so important.

It is not surprising that a sophisticated person like Clinton, who was so invested in the Middle East conflict, didn’t understand this Israeli demand. It was because he did not think that the PA could have an Islamic religious basis for its geopolitical decisions. He should have been given a clue when Arafat told him that there was never a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, a fantasy that not only delegitimized Judaism but Christianity too.

For insight into the Islamic religiosity of the PA, listen to the words of Mahmood Al-Habbash. He is the most important religious figure in the PA, who Abbas appointed as his closest adviser on Islam and the PA’s Supreme Sharia (Islamic law) Judge.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, he tells Palestinians of the West Bank under the control of the PA that the conflict with Israel is an uncompromising religious war for Islam against Israel and Jews. Israelis/Jews are the “enemies of Muslims.” The ultimate battle described in the Quran will “lead to great destruction for the ‘Children of Israel.’ The conflict here in Palestine between us and the criminal occupation… between good and evil.” “Normalization means that you agree to natural relations with your brother’s murderers… with the enemies of Prophet Muhammad.”

Sounds pretty jihadist to me. But does the State Department read the transcripts of the PA and their appointed leaders?

This year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “We have to start putting in place the conditions that would allow both sides to engage in a meaningful and positive way toward two states.” It now appears that the Biden administration is pushing Israel to acquiesce to the reopening of the American consulate in East Jerusalem, which it foresees as the future capital for a Palestinian state.

If Blinken and Biden decide to dip their toes in the troubled waters of a negotiated-conflict solution, the PA’s Islamic religious predisposition should not be papered over. The PA should be seen as it is, and anyone in the administration who is genuinely looking for a lasting or sustainable solution should want that as well. Repeating the mantra of two states for two peoples won’t work if one side can never accept a Jewish state on what they perceive as once Islamic-held land.

It should become a standing American prerequisite that before the US enters into any mediation for a negotiation to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; both the Israelis and Palestinians agree that at the end of the talks, both are willing to sign an end of conflict agreement. That would end in perpetuity all claims to the territory from each other, fully accepting the legitimate rights of the other party in an internationally accepted legal document. This is also assuming they can get past the uncompromising PA demand for a “right of return” of everyone who has at least an ancestor considered as a refugee from Palestine.

If the Palestinians refuse, it exposes their genuine desire for all of the Islamic Waqf – the entirety of Israel.

According to Palestinian expert, Khaled Abu Toameh, speaking on an AIJAC webinar, the “PA has never actually looked at the Arab-Israel conflict as a dispute over land, amenable to compromise. However, their embrace of Islamism can only make any prospect of a two-state resolution even more distant and difficult.”

Better to know now than to keep repeating the same mistake again and again. Then negotiations could transition to a long-term ceasefire and focus on economically empowering the Palestinian people.
This week the State Department spokesman said the US seeks to “pave a path to negotiations.” But negotiations with what end? Can any State Department official see outside the box of their long-standing flawed foundational policy and see the PA/PLO as they are, religiously motivated, not as how they wish them to be, Westernized and secular?