Where Israel Never Wins

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In December I read the news from Gaza—the New York Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, and so on—and saw no terrorists, just militants. Not much about past rocket attacks on Israel, but detailed reporting on the crowded conditions in the Gaza Strip. Iranian aid was rarely elaborated on; stories about quiet Arab support for defanging Hamas likewise were rare; protests in Europe, however, were prominently mentioned.

I wanted to say to those journalists, "Where were you when the Russians blew apart 40,000 Muslims in the center of Grozny or occupied parts of Georgia? Are you upset about the Turkish occupation of Cyprus, now in its fourth decade? Didn’t Israel give up more land in southern Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank than China ever did in Tibet? Were more Palestinians lost in Gaza or Africans in Zimbabwe or Congo?"

Gaza is a sort of lab experiment in the Middle East. Recall for a minute that the Israelis withdrew en masse, a so-called retreat that reverberated all over the Middle East. The West supported free and open elections that gave the Islamist movement Hamas its legitimacy, such as it was. Gaza, strategically placed on the Mediterranean with a prime shoreline, borders Egypt, the traditional center of the Arab world. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Middle East oil money have poured into the tiny state, along with Western relief money. Israel clearly wants no more of Gaza and would love to let it alone to be Dubai.

So what did Gaza make of its opportunity?

One can only conclude that the world deems Israel an illegitimate state, worthy of destruction, and will allow its enemies to keep trying until they succeed.

Hamas, with its serial rocket attacks on Israel, interprets recent history not as a chance for prosperity but as stage one for the great accomplishment of its generation: the destruction of the Jewish state. Its agenda is clear and apparently shared by millions of members of the elites in the West itself, without whose support Hamas could not exist. The common theme of Western press coverage is the misery of Gaza, never the misery of Gaza as a product of the garrison-state mentality of Hamas’s radical Islamist vows to wage perennial war against Israel.

Hamas knows that its own losses will be characterized as a "holocaust" and appear comparable in the Western media to something like Darfur or the slaughter in Zimbabwe or the usual carnage that we wake up to on the news. Take away Western press attention from Gaza, and Hamas is just another violent, illiberal regime that impoverishes its own people yet seeks victim status in the West.

Is that too harsh? I don’t think so. If Hamas were to call a one-year truce with Israel, seek normal relations with Egypt, and swear off Iranian-Hezbollah terrorist aid while it sought to rebuild infrastructure, ensure security, and recruit foreign capital, then there would be no more world attention, and its cadres of hooded youth would lack the pizzazz of being "militants."

Meanwhile, we suffer through a reinvention of the rules of war:

  1. Proportionality. Hamas is allowed to keep trying to kill as many Jews as it can, to "balance" those lost to far more lethal Israeli countermeasures. New Rule I: War is a tit-for-tat game, where fairness is defined as killing no more than you lose.
  2. Civilians and warriors: there is no such difference. Hamas’s terrorists who shoot rockets against Israeli families burrow into their own civilian infrastructure. The terrorists are tragic innocents to the world when they are killed and heroes to their own if they can kill innocent Jews through their barrages. Rule II: The age of uniforms and battle lines is over, replaced by the civilian shield as the best defense against Western mastery of traditional arms.
  3. War that is lost on the battlefield can be won through the international media. The Palestinians rely on certain truths in the international arena: the world remains largely anti-Semitic; the world appreciates the strategic calculus that Arabs are numerous and have oil, and Israel is tiny and lacks it; Westerners fear Islamic terrorists, not the Israel Defense Forces; the West is prone to self-loathing and romanticizes those who capture the mantle of victimhood; and the Palestinians have brilliantly reinvented themselves by claiming a status akin to women, gays, Hispanics, and blacks—fellow victims of rich, white, male Westerners. Rule III: Merely copy any group that sets up shop on an American campus free-speech area, and the resulting sympathy is worth a division.

Hamas, with its serial rocket attacks on Israel, interprets recent history not as a chance for prosperity but as stage one for the great accomplishment of its generation—the destruction of the Jewish state.

Hamas has so thoroughly redefined losses that several hundred killed are now dubbed a holocaust. Meanwhile, its rockets grow in frequency and range and embed themselves into the "normalcy" of the Middle East. Hamas seeks to establish the principle that it can daily wear away the psyche of Israelis and carefully constrain Israeli responses. What a Westerner might call an Israeli victory (for example, terrible destruction of Hamas infrastructure with far greater casualties inflicted than suffered), Hamas and others would call "progress" in a century-long war (that is, the world now accepts that showering Israelis with rockets is not an act of war and not deserving of serious retaliation).

Some of the most vicious anti-Israeli sentiment comes from Europe, especially countries such as Spain and Greece. Yet I remember Morocco and Spain nearly shooting at each other in 2002 in a dispute over an uninhabited rock in the Mediterranean. Even now, Greece bristles every time Turkey overflies Aegean airspace. Israel alone is supposed to decline to respond to rocket barrages; one can only conclude that the world deems Israel an illegitimate state, worthy of destruction, and will allow its enemies to keep trying until they succeed.

Meanwhile, we await Gaza, Gaza—the anguished future documentary that filmmakers no doubt are preparing to show on every American university campus.