The Pyrrhic Cost of Destroying Hamas
“States are cruel monsters” (attributed to de Gaulle) is one catchword about the tragedy of international politics; another is “who now remembers the annihilation of the Armenians” (said by Hitler, as he ordered his armies into Poland in 1939).
Some Americans feel troubled, even outraged, by Israel’s assault on Gaza, but most do not. The Gazans brought it on themselves by voting for Hamas, said a prominent New York rabbi, and a fair number of people agree with him. I’m sure many readers may feel angry and bitter at the sight of Israel using sophisticated American weapons to destroy a nearly defenseless people, but it’s a minority view. People have other concerns; many are actively pro-Israel, and would back Israel no matter what it did.
However there are some hard-headed and non-sentimental reasons to oppose the assault, for those unmoved by photographs of four-year-olds having their legs blown off as their Congress cheers and Israelis invent clever jingles about there being no school in Gaza because they’re no children left to attend. At Aspen over the weekend, at an important national security forum, Lieutenant General Michal Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that if the Israelis succeed in destroying Hamas, something worse will emerge from the rubble. He went on (in the CNN radio excerpt I heard; not cited in the print stories) to say that recruitment to jihadist groups had been spiking in the past weeks throughout the Muslim world, as the jihadis used images of Israeli killing of children to draw in young men from throughout the region. In short, it appears that Israel is acting the world’s principle recruitment agent for terrorism. Four years ago, David Petraeus said the Israel-Palestine conflict endangered American troops throughout the region, and now a comparably top national security figure asserts that Israel is threatening to bring to power worse groups in Gaza while implicitly recruiting terrorists throughout the Middle East.
American leaders certainly would deny they’re engaged in generations-long war against the Palestinians; any establishment figure in Washington would quickly point to the aid we’ve given the Palestinian Authority and the many efforts by the U.S. to facilitate peace negotiations. But one can understand why a Palestinian would come to that conclusion: we shield Israel from international sanction and censure in countless international bodies, give it more aid than we do to all of Africa combined, and provide it with everything from the Iron Dome to sophisticated jets—all to ensure that “qualitative military edge” we are now observing in action.
Psychologists and sociologists really don’t know much about the triggers that drive people to terrorism. The 9/11 attackers, Saudis, were seemingly middle class, and had relatively normal lives. The University of Chicago’s Robert Pape has done exhaustive research showing that being under occupation is almost the solitary variable in pushing people towards suicide terrorism. Israel’s policy is designed to ensure there is no unified Palestinian movement and never a Palestinian state, indeed no hope of one—that Palestine remain forever under occupation. Towards Gaza, the policy means enforcement of a rigid economic blockade, and periodic wars to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure—essentially to break the spirit of this community, inhabited in the main by the descendants of Palestinians ethnically cleansed from Palestine in 1948. Mowing the lawn, Israelis call it. Hamas is an adversary of Israel and has deployed terrorism, but has also expressed numerous times its desire for a truce, based upon a two-state solution. Most serious analysts perceive the truce formulation as a significant evolution of the group’s aims, which were profoundly anti-Zionist at its founding.
Suppose Israel succeeds in destroying Hamas. How many terror cells will it have created thoughout the Middle East? Will those cells content themselves in mounting operations against Israel? Or would they also seek vengeance against the superpower which enables, and could even be seen as encouraging, Israel’s annihilation of them. In 2002, a not-very-sophisticated home-grown sniper traumatized the Washington metropolitan area for weeks. If the predictions of one of America’s leading anti-terror officials are correct, Israel is setting the table for much more complex terror operations, in which American civilians will become targets. Sad as it is to contemplate, if that happens, people all over the Mideast will believe we are only getting what we deserve.