July 13, 2006.
There are crises that complicate and crises that clarify. The crisis along Israel’s
southern and northern frontiers is of the latter sort. Hamas and Hezbollah, in
accordance with their lunatic assumption that the worse, the better, crossed
an internationally recognized border and killed and have taken hostage soldiers
of the neighboring state whose existence they despise.
The attacks were unprovoked, except by the attackers’ view of the
world. Israel has rightly chosen to regard these provocations very seriously, and
so far it has earned the sympathy of decent observers everywhere.
What has been clarified by this round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, first
and foremost, the character of Israel’s adversaries. They are Islamist terrorists,
and proud to be so.
More ominously, they are Islamist terrorists come to power. Hamas is no
longer only a movement; it is now also a government.
In the months since Hamas was elected by the Palestinians to govern (or
misgovern) them, the regime of Ismail Haniyeh and company has presided over
the launching of hundreds of Qassam rockets into Israel, applauded a suicide
bombing at a Tel Aviv restaurant (it would have been hypocritical of them not
to applaud it!), allowed an unprecedented escalation of the conflict with the
firing of a souped-up rocket into Ashkelon – the first time such a strike has been
made against a major Israeli city – and, of course, kidnapped Corporal Gilad
All of this, again, is the work of a government. When Hamas was elected, there
was an eruption of assurances in the media that power will breed responsibility,
that the drudgeries of governing will usurp the ecstasies of bombing, and so on.
“Hamas?” the headline on the cover of The New York Review of Books
asked hopefully. But the Hamas rulers of Palestine have made it plain that they
see no contradiction between governing and bombing. Success at the ballot
box has had no calming effect. It has merely conferred political legitimacy upon
Hezbollah, of course, is not a government, but it is a part of a government. Its
freedom of action, its unreconstructed radicalism, its pervasive presence in
Lebanese politics: All this brings to mind nasty memories of a few decades ago,
so that it is not incorrect to say that, over the last 30 years, Lebanon has
exchanged a PLO mini-state within its borders for a Hezbollah mini-state within
When Shalit was kidnapped, Hamas cited the precedent of Hezbollah’s
kidnappings (and prisoner-exchanges) in the past, as if in exoneration of its own
extortion. Hezbollah has always been Hamas’s teacher in the great madrassa of
Now the teacher has taken a cue from the student and taken its own
Israeli hostages. Israel must now remind its adversaries that it was deadly in
earnest when, decades ago, it proclaimed that it would tolerate no such
aggression along its northern border.
There is also a larger strategic dimension to the Hamas-Hezbollah offensive.
These provocations stink of Assad and Ahmadinejad. The Hamas action in Gaza
appears to have been ordered by Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader who resides
in Damascus – which is to say, it is also a piece of Syrian intrigue.
Nor can anything of significance take place in Lebanon without the
sanction of Damascus; and Hezbollah enjoys not only the toleration of Syria but
also the time-honored support of Iran, which is also Syria’s great ally in a region
that may be otherwise turning in a better direction.
Perhaps Meshal’s responsibility for the Gaza attack will now allow
Haniyeh to masquerade as a moderate. (The Washington Post this week
published an op-ed by Haniyeh that was full of outrageous assertions. It seems
that an election is all that stands between terrorism and punditry.)
It is also worth noting that the Hamas-Hezbollah aggression is aimed at
damaging precisely those political forces in Israel — now represented by Ehud
Olmert’s government — that withdrew Israeli settlers from Gaza and is
committed to withdrawing Israeli settlers (70,000 of them) from the West Bank.
It was one of the great ironies of recent times that Olmert’s party rose in Israel
at the exact moment that Hamas rose in Palestine; but the irony has turned
They, the Palestinians, really do want everything. And so they are about
to learn, yet again, that, as long as they want everything, they will get nothing.
This may satisfy the nihilists in charge, since nihilists live for nothing.