The Palestinian residents of the tiny, crowded Gaza Strip — one and a half million people crammed into an area about twice the size of Washington, D.C. — elected the terrorist group Hamas to govern them in 2006. Hamas — the Islamic Resistance Movement — has as its announced goal the destruction of Israel.
Under a series of Clinton-era agreements, Israel ceded civilian government over the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. These agreements were supposed to be the foundation of long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but Arafat’s sustained terror campaign against Israel — the “second intifada” which began in 2000 — along with Hizballah’s Lebanon-based terror, precluded any progress. Now Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah Party president of the Palestinian Authority, has no more authority over Hamas than Canute did over the ocean’s tide.
The leader of Hamas — Khaled Meshaal — does not live in the poverty of Gaza. He and so many other terrorists live in comfort in Damascus, Syria. Damascus, in turn, is what it has been for decades: a terrorist safe haven where Hamas and Iranian-sponsored Hizballah make their headquarters. There, they are free to organize, plan and marshal the money they receive from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and many other prime sources.
Damascus, like Tehran, is a central sponsor of Islamic terrorism. They are the Petri dishes in which Islamic radicalism is cultured and grown. Which is why Israel’s military strikes against Hamas in Gaza which began last weekend will have only a short-term effect in suppressing terrorist acts against Israel.
Israel’s airstrikes, which may be the precursors of an Israeli incursion into Gaza, were precipitated by Hamas missile strikes into Israel. They began after Hamas chose to let an uneasy cease-fire expire. By late last week, Hamas was firing between sixty and eighty missiles a day from Gaza into Israeli cities and towns. The missiles achieved their intended goal: Israel struck hard on Saturday and Sunday, hitting a reported fifty targets in the first five minutes.
Hamas’ leadership wanted Israel to strike back. They care nothing for the welfare of the Palestinian people. And the Palestinians — the only people in the world who consistently fail to act in their own self-interest — will blame Israel for the violence, not their Hamas leaders.
Which is why Hamas — like Hizballah did in the 2006 Lebanon war with Israel — placed its military forces, weapons and all — close to civilian schools, hospitals and other properties to ensure civilian casualties when they are hit. Terrorists always want Israel to face a Hobson’s Choice: either cause casualties among Palestinian civilians or tolerate the murder of its own people.
Israel had fenced off Gaza, successfully preventing almost all terrorist attacks emanating from there. But the Hamas terrorists (funded and armed by Syria and Iran) simply substituted missile attacks to reach over the fence. No matter how many Hamas members are killed, no matter how many Israelis are ordered into Gaza, any lessening of violence will only be temporary because the problem in Gaza can no more be solved within Gaza than the problems in Iraq can be solved in Iraq.
The Gaza Strip is just a microcosm of the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. Unless and until nations such as Iran and Syria are forced to end state sponsorship of terrorism, any victories we or the Israelis achieve will be short-lived. The longer we and the rest of the civilized world deny that fact, terrorism will succeed.
The violence in Gaza isn’t likely to spread, and the intensity of the war between the Israelis and their surrounding nations will grow hotter and colder periodically. And the West will do nothing to force Syria to end sponsorship of terrorism. We remain in denial of the stubborn fact — the existential threat — of state-sponsored terrorism.
A few thousand miles east of Gaza, a very similar conflict may soon erupt which the world will also try to ignore. We and our putative allies turn a blind eye to it, tip-toeing around the nature of the enemy. As Israeli tanks mass on the border of Gaza, Pakistani tanks are massing on the border with India.
Pakistan is Gaza writ large. As a senior White House official told me last summer, the most dangerous safe havens problem on the planet is northwestern Pakistan, the so-called “Federally-Administered Tribal Areas” in which some one million radical Islamic fighters organize and train. After the Mumbai attack in November, it quickly became clear that the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba terrorists — the same ones that had attacked India’s parliament in December 2001 — had again mounted an attack from Pakistan.
In a letter to the Washington Post on Saturday, Nadeem Kiani — the press attaché at Pakistan’s Washington embassy — wrote, “The fact is that as of now, we have not been provided credible evidence of any Pakistani individual (sic) or group’s involvement…Lashkar-e-Tayyiba has been banned in Pakistan and does not exist.”
This is not merely a lie, it is agitprop: the combination of agitation and propaganda the Soviet Union used to misinform, to calm or inflame. The Soviets employed it daily to divide the West, to encourage appeasers and to becloud the Soviets’ intentions. Terrorists and the nations that harbor them learned its use too well and are using it to the same purpose and effect. When nuclear-armed nations such as Pakistan use it, it cannot go unchallenged. But it will.
India, like Israel, has both the right and a duty to strike back at terrorists. Pakistan refuses to act against Lashkar e-Tayyiba and to turn its leaders over to India, just as the Taliban did in 2001 when we demanded that they hand over Usama bin Laden. When India strikes back, will we equate the aggressor to the defender, demanding both sides end the fighting? That is just what Barack Obama will do.
The greatest danger we face is the emotional, cowardly denial of the facts. But when we accept the facts, and choose to act upon them, we follow the only path that can maintain our freedom.
The longer we deny the threat of state-sponsored terrorism, the harder and more costly it will be to end it. If we wait too long, it may be beyond our power to do so.