Friday, November 16, 2012

Israel’s Message to Hamas Should Resonate in Washington

Israel’s Message to Hamas Should Resonate in Washington

Jonathan S. Tobin

For days, southern Israel was pounded by close to 200 rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza. This morning, the Islamist terrorist group got its answer when the Israel Defense Forces launched a series of retaliatory strikes on its military leadership. Ahmed al-Jabari, the group’s top commander, was killed in an airstrike on his car as it drove down a Gaza street. The killing of al-Jabari was just one of 20 different attacks on Hamas operatives in an effort intended to both decapitate its terrorist hierarchy as well as to send a message to the Gaza regime that if it thinks it can rain down missiles on Israel with impunity, it has made a terrible miscalculation.

The Israeli counter-attack after the days of Hamas missile fire is clearly an attempt by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to halt the assaults on his country without having to resort to an invasion of Gaza. While Israel can expect the world to condemn its measures of self-defense, Netanyahu cannot allow a return to the situation prior to the last IDF offensive into Gaza four years ago, when Hamas acted as if it thought there was no way for Israel to stop the missile fire on its borders. It remains to be seen whether, after another surge of rocket fire today following al-Jabari’s death, Hamas will take the hint and stand down.

But either way, these events effectively debunk the idea that Hamas has embraced non-violence and that the United States should reach out to it to join peace negotiations. That’s a narrative that was increasingly being promoted by those who sought to use the Obama administration’s decision to treat the new Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt with kid gloves. The decision over the past weekend by the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies to set in motion the events that threaten to plunge the region into a new round of deadly violence is also a reminder to Washington that it should be paying more attention to the security needs of its Israeli ally and less to what its new friends in Cairo are saying.

The idea that Hamas is a responsible player that ought not to be treated as the despicable terror group that it actually is has been increasingly heard in the last year, as the Brotherhood took over in Egypt. With the support of its Egyptian and Turkish Islamist allies, Hamas has been seeking to break down the isolation that has been imposed on Gaza since the bloody 2006 coup in which the group ousted the PA from power in the Strip. Indeed, the idea that Hamas had become housebroken even took root among Palestinians, causing the group’s popularity to decline, as it was no longer seen as Israel’s implacable enemy.

But the conviction that Hamas had abandoned its primary purpose was always unfounded. The Islamist group’s ongoing war with Israel never ended. Though analysts will debate the motivation for the decision to launch a missile offensive on southern Israel, the result was unambiguous. The violence should derail any thought of the United Nations voting to upgrade the status of the increasingly irrelevant Palestinian Authority. It will also rally Israel’s critics — who can always be counted on to ignore attacks on the Jewish state and to treat any attempt to defend its people as a war crime — behind the terrorist group.

Though some of Israel’s critics in the United States will hope that the violence in Gaza will serve to motivate President Obama to re-launch the dead-in-the-water peace process with the PA and to add Hamas to the mix, what Washington ought to be doing now is reassessing its decision to embrace Egypt’s new government. Unless Egyptian President Morsi steps up now and uses his considerable influence over Gaza to force Hamas to cease firing on Israel, a re-evaluation of aid to Cairo must begin immediately.