November 30, 2023

I’ve lined this battle for nearly 50 years, and I’ve seen Israelis and Palestinians do quite a lot of terrible issues to 1 one other: Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up Israeli discos and buses; Israeli fighter jets hitting neighborhoods in Gaza that home Hamas fighters but in addition inflicting large civilian casualties. However I’ve not seen one thing like what occurred final weekend: particular person Hamas fighters rounding up Israeli males, girls and youngsters, wanting them within the eyes, gunning them down and, in a single case, parading a unadorned lady round Gaza to shouts of “Allahu akbar.”

The final time I witnessed that degree of face-to-face barbarism was the bloodbath of Palestinian males, girls and youngsters by Christian militiamen within the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut in 1982, the place the primary sufferer I encountered was an older man with a white beard and a bullet gap in his temple.

Whereas I’ve no illusions about Hamas’s long-established dedication to the destruction of the Jewish state, I’m nonetheless asking myself as we speak: The place did this ISIS-like impulse for mass homicide as the first aim come from? Not the seizing of territory, however plain homicide? There’s something new right here that’s necessary to know.

Since I can’t interview the Hamas management, I’m drawing on my expertise within the area, and right here’s how I see it.

Whereas this operation was absolutely deliberate by Hamas leaders months in the past, I feel its emotional origins might be defined partly by a photograph that appeared within the Israeli press on Oct. 3. A couple of Israeli authorities ministers had gone to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for his or her first official go to ever, to attend worldwide conferences in late September and early October, and it received quite a lot of protection within the Israeli press.

However having lived in each Beirut and Jerusalem, I used to be struck most by that uncommon photograph — a picture that I knew would set off fully completely different emotional reactions in each worlds.

It was taken by the crew of Israel’s communications minister, Shlomo Karhi, who was attending a U.N. postal convention in Riyadh, as they had been conducting a prayer service of their lodge room for the Jewish vacation of Sukkot. Certainly one of them took an image of a colleague sporting a conventional Jewish prayer scarf and yarmulke whereas holding up a Torah scroll with the Riyadh skyline within the window past.

For Israeli Jews, that image is a dream come true — the last word expression of lastly being accepted within the Center East, greater than a century after the beginning of the Zionist motion to construct a contemporary democratic state within the biblical homeland of the Jewish folks. To have the ability to pray with a Torah in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the house of its two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, is a degree of acceptance that touches the soul of each Israeli Jew.

However that very same photograph ignites a strong and emotional rage in lots of Palestinians, notably these affiliated with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, together with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. For them, that image is the total expression of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s supreme aim: to show to all naysayers, certainly to rub their noses within the truth, that he could make peace with all of the Arab states — even Saudi Arabia — and never have to provide the Palestinians a single inch.

So far as diplomacy goes, that has been Netanyahu’s life’s mission: to show to everybody that Israel can have its cake — acceptance by all the encompassing Arab states — and eat the Palestinians’ territory, too.

I do not know whether or not the Hamas management noticed that exact image, however they’ve been totally conscious of the continued evolution it displays. I imagine one motive Hamas not solely launched this assault now — but in addition seemingly ordered it to be as murderous as doable — was to set off an Israeli overreaction, like an invasion of the Gaza Strip, that might result in large Palestinian civilian casualties and in that means drive Saudi Arabia to again away from the U.S.-brokered deal now in discussion to advertise normalization between Riyadh and the Jewish state. In addition to to drive the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, which had been a part of the Abraham Accords produced by the Trump administration, to take a step again from Israel.

The essence of Hamas’s message to Netanyahu and his far-right ruling coalition of Jewish supremacists and ultra-Orthodox is that this: You’ll by no means be at residence right here — irrespective of how a lot of our land our gulf Arab brothers promote you. We are going to drive you to lose your minds and do loopy issues to Gaza that drive the Arab states to shun you.

Concentrate: Hamas didn’t ship operatives to the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution (and it has loads there) to assault Jewish settlements. It targeted its onslaught on Israeli villages and kibbutz farms that had been not a part of the Israeli-occupied West Financial institution.

“These had been the houses of the folks of pre-1967 Israel, democratic Israel, liberal Israel — dwelling in peaceable kibbutzim or going to a life-loving disco occasion,” the Israeli author Ari Shavit remarked to me. For Hamas, “Israel’s mere existence is a provocation,” he mentioned. In a single kibbutz alone, Be’eri, at the very least 108 folks, together with youngsters, had been simply gunned down.

So how can America finest assist Israel now, in addition to standing behind its proper to guard itself, as President Biden so forcefully did in his speech as we speak? I feel the U.S. must do three issues.

First, I hope the president is asking Israel to ask itself this query because it considers what to do subsequent in Gaza: What do my worst enemies need me to do — and the way can I do exactly the other?

What Israel’s worst enemies — Hamas and Iran — need is for Israel to invade Gaza and get enmeshed in a strategic overreach there that might make America’s entanglement in Falluja appear to be a youngsters’s birthday celebration. We’re speaking house-to-house preventing that might undermine no matter sympathy Israel has garnered on the world stage, deflect world consideration from the murderous regime in Tehran and drive Israel to stretch its forces to completely occupy Gaza and the West Financial institution.

Hamas and Iran completely don’t need Israel to chorus from going into Gaza very deep or lengthy.

Nor does Hamas need the U.S. and Israel to proceed as a substitute as quick as doable with negotiations to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia as a part of a deal that might additionally require Israel to make actual concessions to the Palestinian Authority within the West Financial institution, which has accepted Israel as a part of the Oslo peace accords.

However for Israel to do what’s most in its pursuits, not these of Hamas and Iran, will probably require some very powerful love between Biden and Netanyahu. One should always remember that Netanyahu at all times appeared to choose to cope with a Hamas that was unremittingly hostile to Israel than with its rival, the extra reasonable Palestinian Authority — which Netanyahu did every little thing he may to discredit, though the Palestinian Authority has lengthy labored carefully with Israeli safety companies to maintain the West Financial institution quiet, and Netanyahu is aware of it.

Netanyahu has by no means wished the world to imagine that there are “good Palestinians” able to stay aspect by aspect with Israel in peace and attempt to nurture them. For years now he’s at all times wished to inform U.S. presidents: What would you like from me? I’ve nobody to speak to on the Palestinian aspect.

That’s how Israel reached a stage the place the more and more pricey — morally and financially — Israeli occupation of the West Financial institution has not even been a problem within the final 5 Israeli elections.

Or as Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli nationwide safety adviser, wrote in an essay in Haaretz on Sunday: “For a decade and a half Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to institutionalize the divide between the West Financial institution and Gaza, undermine the Palestinian Authority, the P.A., and conduct de facto cooperation with Hamas, all designed to exhibit the absence of a Palestinian accomplice and to make sure that there could possibly be no peace course of which may have required territorial compromise within the West Financial institution.”

Lastly, I hope Biden is telling Netanyahu that America will do every little thing it could to assist democratic Israel defend itself from the theocratic fascists of Hamas — and their soul brothers of Hezbollah in Lebanon, ought to they enter the struggle.

However Netanyahu’s aspect of the cut price is that he has to reconnect himself with liberal democratic Israel, so the world and the area sees this not as a non secular struggle however as a struggle between the frontline of democracy and the frontline of theocracy. Which means Netanyahu has to vary his cupboard, expel the spiritual zealots and create a nationwide unity authorities with Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.

Sadly, Netanyahu remains to be prioritizing his coalition of zealots, whom he wants to guard him from his corruption trial and to finish his judicial coup that might neuter the Supreme Courtroom of Israel. That’s actually tousled.

And it’s a essential motive Israel was caught off guard within the first place. Netanyahu was so wedded to this private agenda that he was able to divide Israeli society like by no means earlier than — and splinter his personal military and air drive within the course of — to get management of the courts.

I promise you that if and when there’s an inquiry into how the Israeli Military may have so missed this Hamas buildup, investigators will uncover that the Israeli Military management needed to spend a lot time simply preserving its air drive pilots and reserve officers from boycotting their service to protest Netanyahu’s judicial coup — to not point out the time, consideration and sources they needed to commit to stopping extremist settlers and non secular zealots from doing loopy issues in Jerusalem and the West Financial institution — that they took their eyes off the ball.

America can not shield Israel in the long term from the very actual threats it faces until Israel has a authorities that displays the perfect, not the worst, of its society, and until that authorities is able to attempt to forge compromises with the perfect, not the worst, of Palestinian society.

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