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Win This War

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

After 50 days, the war has ended. At least for now.  The missiles have stopped firing, the artillery fire has gone quiet.  Worst hit by far were the communities closest to Gaza.  The four-year old boy killed in Nahal Oz and the middle aged men killed in  Nirim at the end of the war, left a deep scar of pain and loss that seared not only the residents of those communities but reminded the entire country that at most we have reached a period of quiet that will surely be followed by another period of war.

Today, the country is licking its wounds and trying to decide who won this war.  And as the debate rages within the country with politicians and pundits analyzing the outcome of the military campaign, it is a good time to take a step back and evaluate the nature of the challenge that faces Israel today.  In fact, given the volatile nature of the entire Middle East today, more than ever before, Israel’s performance in this war, and more importantly, the restrictions it imposed on its performance, speaks volumes regarding the danger that the entire western world faces at present.

When the attacks against Israel first began in July from Gaza, it was actually just a more concentrated set of attacks on Israel than what we have seen consistently for more than a decade.  For years, Hamas has been firing at Southern Israel with greater and greater proficiency, as their weapons become more sophisticated and their rockets expand their range.  The people living in the kibbutzim, towns and cities nearest Gaza have lived with ongoing attacks all this time.  No other country in the world would have tolerated such violent and blatant violations of its sovereignty and threats to the safety and welfare of its citizens.

Israelis question why the strongest army in the Middle East has been unable to put an end to this ongoing violence.  So when the IDF finally seemed to be responding to the current threat in a more serious vein and when the attack tunnels were revealed to the general public and the IDF launched its campaign to discover and neutralize these tunnels, the Israeli public wanted the IDF to defeat the Hamas once and for all.  It didn’t matter how long it took — we were patient and willing to sacrifice the lives of our soldiers, our sons and husbands, to get the job done.

Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed two main goals for this campaign — the destruction of the attack tunnels and the restoration of quiet.  He never  mentioned the defeat of Hamas.  But it was the defeat of Hamas that the people of Israel wanted and it was this hope that became the motivating factor behind soldiers and civilians alike — to withstand whatever difficulties we had to face today so that tomorrow would be a better day.

So when the IDF pulled out of Gaza before Hamas admitted defeat and when the most recent and long-standing cease fire was obtained without Hamas admitting defeat, the Israeli public was bitterly disappointed.  IDF officers and government leaders alike pointed to the incredible destruction of Gaza and the neutralizing of many of Hamas’ top leadership.  But when we saw Hamas leaders emerge from their underground hiding places claiming victory and continuing to threaten Israel, Israelis wondered what, indeed we had accomplished.

In fact, Hamas was defeated at least in this round, and it was Hamas who begged for the cease fire that was finally implemented.  Hundreds of thousands of Gazans are without shelter and much of the terrorist infrastructure has been destroyed.   But Hamas continues to gloat and threaten.  Israel’s conflict with Gaza highlights the terrible dilemmas facing all democratic nations as they deliberate their options in facing down threats from a growing jihadist group of people.  These terrorists care nothing for their own people and encourage suicide and martyrdom.  They do not build societies but thrive on the destruction of societies.  And yet, by hiding behind civilian populations, they force their enemies to attack civilians in order to reach the terrorists.  And when democratic societies hesitate to attack, this hesitation is interpreted as weakness, and in turn, encourages further violence on the part of the terrorists.

The USA and Europe are deliberating how to respond to the threat posed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and which threatens to spill over throughout the Middle East and on to Europe.  As gruesome pictures of beheadings and crucifixions of Christians and other non-Muslim minorities flood the internet, civilized people all over the globe are at a loss.  How do moral, caring human beings respond to a threat so barbaric, a threat that grows in intensity each day.  Is it possible to respond with precision and only kill those who bear arms against us?  Or is our moral cautiousness enabling the worst human beings on this planet to hide behind civilians?  When Israel attacked several high-rise apartment buildings in Gaza, they first warned the residents of those buildings that an attack was imminent.  The result was that the buildings collapsed but the people, including the Hamas terrorists who were the targets of the attacks, escaped.

We are facing a monster that the world is only beginning to recognize.  Even as Hamas continues to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of so much of the Western world, its jihadist partner, ISIS is being exposed as the devil it truly is.  It took gruesome pictures to hammer this truth home but the very mention of ISIS conjures up panic and fear in the hearts and minds of leaders and citizens alike all over the world.

But Hamas and ISIS are one and the same.  And their state sponsors, Qatar and others, share moral culpability for what they do.  And those nations who have spent years seeking to appease jihadists, rationalizing terrorist behavior with stories of oppression and victimization have missed the point.  They have allowed the monster to grow and gain power to the extent that it threatens the entire free world.

I hope we are not on the threshold of another world war.  But there is no question that the threat today is far more potent than it was 10 years ago when the seeds were there but no one took the threat seriously.  Israel has always been on the front line of a battle that is actually a global battle.  We have held on and fought the good fight.  But the time has come for all good peoples to stand against this Jihad and fight this battle together.

Israel should be hailed for what it has done and supported and encouraged for what it needs to do on behalf of good and free peoples everywhere.  This is a different sort of war and different rules of engagement must be created.  We have no choice but to win this war.  There is no longer any time for deliberation.




Sondra Baras