Opinion: Hamas’ attack defies cliches of the Israel-Palestine conflict
Throughout Israel’s 76-year conflict with the Palestinians, certain cliches — like condemnations of the “cycle of violence” — have calcified. Last Saturday’s attacks on Israeli civilians betray their total bankruptcy. Israel did nothing to provoke this attack. There was no raid, no strike on terrorist headquarters, nothing. This isn’t revenge or retaliation — just straight-up barbarity.
It’s past time to retire another cliche: the “peace process.” On CNN, for example, representatives of the Palestinian Authority (which controls the West Bank) explained that the 10/7 attack was the understandable response by Palestinians to the lack of progress in the peace process. Precisely the opposite is the case. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since its first and only election in 2006, does not and never has sought peace. Its charter specifically calls for the complete destruction of Israel.
Another cliche: The 10/7 war is not an act of resistance against “occupation.” There is no IDF presence in Gaza — or rather, there wasn’t until Saturday. Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza strip in 2005. Granted internal autonomy, Hamas has used the control to build tunnels and purchase rockets and missiles (along with hundreds of kites fitted with incendiary devices to start fires across the border).
Not only does Hamas disbelieve in the “peace process”; it appears that the 10/7 attacks were motivated in large part because Hamas was alarmed that Israel is in the process of finding wider peace in the region. It is the prospect of a Saudi-Israeli rapprochement that Hamas (and its Iranian patrons) found threatening. Hamas’ frustration is not about the lack of progress toward peace, but rather the possibility of peace.
It is not blaming the victim to note that Israel became more vulnerable to this attack because of its recent internal divisions. Enemies notice these things. At some point there will be a reckoning within the Israeli government to determine why its intelligence apparatus failed and its defenses were inadequate. But not now. Today, and tomorrow, and for the near future, Israel must fight its enemies.
Other lessons are already apparent.
Hamas had been written off as a spent force in the region following the Abraham Accords and the Saudi overture. These terrorists have demonstrated prodigious cunning, logistical sophistication and unanticipated military capabilities in executing coordinated attacks by land, sea and air.
Yet for all the sophistication, these attacks were fundamentally barbaric — and there is a lesson in that, too. Hamas fired some 2,200 rockets into civilian neighborhoods, stripped Israeli women naked and paraded their bodies in a pick-up truck. They indiscriminately shot hundreds of civilians at bus stops, in cars and in their homes. They lit houses on fire to force people out of safe rooms. They kidnapped dozens (possibly hundreds) of Israelis, including both the elderly and infants. And they did so with laughter, posting their crimes on Facebook.
It gets worse. Surely the Hamas terrorists understand that Israel will retaliate with ferocity to what is being called Israel’s 9/11. And surely they know that when this happens, Palestinians will do most of the suffering and dying in the end.
In the past, Hamas has purposely incurred civilian casualties as part of a sustained effort to delegitimize Israel. They have launched rockets from schoolyards and mosques and maintained terror headquarters in hospitals, hoping to force Israeli counterstrikes that would kill Palestinian civilians and garner world sympathy.
The 10/7 war seems designed to bring this to a new level — to incite truly terrible retribution from Israel. Surely Hamas knows that from the Israeli public’s perspective, a few targeted strikes on terrorist infrastructure in Gaza City will not suffice to answer for what just happened. No, a much longer and more painful ground incursion will almost certainly be demanded, particularly when there are dozens or perhaps hundreds of hostages Israel will be desperate to rescue.
Hamas calculates that it will also be able to use the imagery (and reality) of Palestinian grief and suffering to hurt Israel again. And perhaps even to draw Hezbollah (another Iranian proxy) to join the conflict. Hezbollah sits on some 130,000 missiles in Lebanon and commands 20,000 active fighters, along with 20,000 reserves. On Sunday, there were short exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah, suggesting that they are on a hair trigger already.
A bloody Israeli ground war in Gaza could also destabilize Hamas’ rival, the Palestinian Authority, currently under the command of Mahmoud Abbas, who is serving his 18th year of a four-year term. If the PA were to join the fight, the civilian casualties could reach unfathomable levels, making it nearly impossible for Saudi Arabia to continue its peace feelers. Such a massive war might even disturb Israel’s still fragile peace with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and others.
Hamas may even believe that Israel is so internally riven that it could lose this war.
If there is any good news to be found in the aftermath of 10/7, it’s that generations of Arab leaders have made this gamble since 1947 and that bet has never come home.
— Mona Charen is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.