Here’s How — As With This Israel-Hamas War — Western Elites Are Baffled by the Middle East
- The “Palestinian militant groups” want to drag Israel into an all-out war. Therefore, she reasons, Israel is foolish to engage in such a war. But the other side wanting a war that Israel prefers to avoid has been a common feature of Israeli history, as in 1948, 1967, and 2006. The Palestinian leadership and Arab states misjudge the balance of forces (that is, they don’t know they will lose) or feel such a losing war is worthwhile to mobilize popular support and to prove the individual group involved (in this case Hamas) is the best and most courageous of Fedayeen.
- The other side consists of “militant groups.” The problem with avoiding the word “terrorist” is not that it sanitizes those attacking Israel but that it downgrades their ideology and intentions. Hamas openly declares it will destroy Israel and commit genocide against Jews. Terrorism is a tactic. What lies behind it is a desire to murder all the civilians on the enemy side, whether or not any specific attack succeeds in killing a few of them.
If you don’t understand the extremism of the enemy, you don’t understand the enemy. And if you don’t understand the enemy, you have no idea of what to do in response. This is precisely the problem of the Western policy toward the Middle East and revolutionary Islamism.
For example, there is a readiness to believe that the assassination of a U.S. ambassador in Benghazi (and on September 11 to boot!) is the result of anger over a video rather than a concerted campaign to fundamentally transform Libya and the Middle East.
But back to Zacharia.
- The fault is with Israel. It doesn’t have a proper diplomatic policy, you see, because there’s no willingness to talk to Hamas. Does Hamas have character of its own? Might it have an ideology and goals of its own? Might Hamas be to Israel what al-Qaiea is to the United States?
If one actually knew anything about Hamas — and Israelis have three decades of experience in studying, fighting, and dealing with it — the idea of a negotiated solution would be ridiculous. Incidentally, Israel has negotiated truces with Hamas. Under normal conditions, Hamas just violates them and up to a point Israel looks the other way or responds in a small way. Periodically, Hamas decides on a big offensive and that leads to war.
Yet Zacharia blames Israel for not being good enough to negotiate a deal with a group whose televised children’s shows call for the physical extinction of Israel, the mass murder of its inhabitants, and future careers for kiddies as suicide bombers.
- Hamas is fighting even more radical groups in the Gaza Strip and therefore it must be moderate or at least potentially so.
That isn’t really true. Of course, Hamas cracks down on groups that attack its own rule or prove to be inconvenient. But far more often it cooperates with Islamic Jihad and even al-Qaeda affiliated groups. These attack Israel with Hamas’s cooperation and forbearance and then Hamas can claim innocence, thus waging war and claiming it isn’t doing anything at all. This is a transparent ploy but one that, as with Zacharia, many influential people in the West buy hook, line, and sinker.
- Israel can “put pressure” on Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, and end the attacks from the Gaza Strip permanently. Yet anybody — much less a journalist who spent years dealing with the Middle East — should know that Abbas has zero influence in the Gaza Strip and any deal he makes (and he doesn’t intend to make one) will have no effect on Hamas or the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, Israel cannot put too much pressure on Abbas because the Obama administration, which puts on no pressure of its own, won’t allow it to do so. In addition, Israel worries more about Abbas being overthrown by Hamas than about his combating the group. Let’s remember that Abbas himself has repeatedly made deals with Hamas that the “militant group” has violated.
In other words, what Zacharia writes — and this is common throughout Western academic, media, and governmental circles — is completely absurd. The solution not being taken up is to overthrow Hamas just like the Taliban was overthrown in Afghanistan, though even that didn’t solve the problems in the latter country.
But there is zero support in the West for bringing down Hamas. President Barack Obama helped install a pro-Hamas regime in Egypt. And the man who never pressured Abbas pressured Israel to reduce sanctions on the Gaza Strip, thus helping Hamas remain in power so it can continue firing rockets at Israel.
I do not expect the mass media to improve nor do I have any hope of educating the journalists who write this kind of thing. They are not going to change in the near or even medium-term future. Hence, they will be ignored instead.
Equally, the governments who follow this kind of line will have no effect — at least no positive effect — on regional problems. The new feature of the last few years is that the U.S. government has contributed to making things much worse.
And that’s why there will be no “permanent end” to this rocket war madness or all of the other varieties of madness that are getting worse in the region.