BY AMBASSADOR DAVID FRIEDMAN
As Israel continues to defend itself against a brutal war begun by Hamas — and the launching of thousands of missiles against a civilian population is nothing less than a war — many are seeking to attach blame for Israel’s challenging circumstances. One day, when the dust hopefully settles, fair-minded people will study this conflict and assess what could have been done better to avoid the loss of life and destruction of property. But regardless of how that analysis plays out, the undeniable villains in this conflict will always be, and will only be, Hamas and its cohorts, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Blaming Israel has become a reflexive reaction from the progressive crowd. Because Israel is stronger than the Palestinians, they argue, it also must be a bad actor. To those in America struggling with identity politics run amok, this must strike a familiar irrational theme. The stridency with which the left criticizes Israel suggests that rockets shot at civilians is a common occurrence in geopolitics and that there is an established manual by which nations are instructed to defend themselves that Israel somehow is violating. Of course, this type of barbaric assault happens almost exclusively against Israel, with the exception of other jihadi-inspired conflicts such as the Houthi attacks from Yemen on Saudi Arabia. Significantly, no critic of Israel has ever identified a less lethal means by which Israel could defend itself.
There is also the tired refrain by Israel’s critics of the comparable body count. More Gazans die in these wars than Israelis. So what? Israel has no obligation to calibrate its self-defense to achieve equivalent mortality rates. I sure hope that if the United States is ever attacked, we don’t adopt such an approach. Hamas would be delighted to trade body for body with Israel for a hundred years! Israel has every right to try to win the war — decisively and permanently — and that can only be accomplished by, well, winning. But even so, the evidence is overwhelming that Israel has surgically targeted its attacks towards senior Hamas terrorists and their stockpiles of weapons. Indeed, many of the civilian casualties in Gaza have often been the result of rockets that Hamas misfired against its own people.
There also is a growing school of thought that blames the Biden administration for its tepid support of Israel which, in turn, may have encouraged Hamas to test America’s resolve to stand with its ally. The theory goes, with some intellectual validity, that Hamas’ goal is to inflict damage upon Israel and then to be spared the full wrath of Israel’s response through American intervention. Hamas may have assumed such intervention would have been forthcoming from the current administration and therefore launched its deadly barrage of rockets. I’m sure to Hamas’s dismay the Biden administration has not — at least not yet — sought to handcuff Israel and has supported its right of self-defense. But more is needed.
When we were in office, we had four of the quietest years in Israel of the past several decades. We achieved that quiet by making it abundantly clear to Israel’s enemies that the United States would support Israel’s ability to defend itself, by itself, as it deemed necessary to protect its citizens. In essence, we accepted Israel’s sovereign right to defend its borders in the same manner as we would any other nation. Israel’s enemies (who are our enemies as well) took notice and acted with appropriate restraint. That message has not yet been delivered to Hamas by the Biden administration in the full-throated fashion that is required. It would greatly help. In addition, President Biden’s seemingly irrational eagerness to return to the Iran deal and decision to fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) are very unhelpful: There’s not much credibility in demanding that Hamas stop firing while you are simultaneously funding its malign activity.
Much of the Biden administration’s approach to the current Hamas war against Israel is worthy of criticism. But it is not to blame for the conflict. That blame lies exclusively with a bunch of antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic terrorist thugs known as Hamas. Contrary to pretextual grievances regarding Jerusalem, Hamas started this war because its political rival, the Palestinian Authority, abruptly cancelled the scheduled elections that already had been postponed on and off for 12 years. The Palestinian Authority, itself violent and corrupt, obviously anticipated a bad outcome from its polling. Hamas, realizing that it could not take over leadership of the Palestinian people at the ballot box, opted instead to gain control through an alternative and even more popular method — inciting riots and killing Israelis.
There is only one side to this story — Hamas started a war to kill Jewish civilians in order to burnish its “leadership” credentials. Anyone hoping for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict better hope and pray that Hamas is decisively defeated. Any other outcome would be devastating to the entire region, most significantly the Palestinian people.
David Friedman is the former United States Ambassador to Israel.