January 20, 2009 | Commentary on Middle East, Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Real World: Gaza's Five Rings of Fire

To understand the Gaza war, one needs to examine the five concentric 'rings of fire' Gaza presents: intra-Palestinian; Israeli-Palestinian; the Arab world; Iran; and the West, including the United States. One also needs to keep in mind that - with the exception of Iran, jihadists, international organizations and some leftist NGOs - no one wants a Hamas victory.

Let's start with a little historical perspective. Hamas is an off-shoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and a proponent of a Sharia state. It has engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity targeting Israeli civilians for over a decade. It started blowing up buses in Tel Aviv amid the Oslo love fest between Yasser Arafat and the Israeli government in 1996. It hasn't stopped since.

When Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza in 2005, Hamas pulled off a coup. It forcibly overthrew Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah regime. In the process, Abbas' supporters were pushed off roofs and knee-capped, in mafia style rub-outs. Shortly after the current conflict started, Hamas executed over 70 Fatah supporters in Gaza. And just before the war, Hamas passed a new penal code based on Sharia law. Accepted punishments now would include beheadings, amputations and crucifixions. (Oddly, the move met with no protests from the United Nations or the human rights community.)

Hamas propaganda brainwashes children as young as four to become suicide bombers. They use a Mickey Mouse-style character and other dolls on children's TV shows to promote jihad. Hamas also uses mothers and babies as human shields to protect its Qassam rocket factories and Iranian-made GRAD launch facilities in Gaza.

Hamas unilaterally decided to end the six-month tahadiyeh ('calming down' - often mistakenly translated as 'ceasefire' in the Western media) last November. Even when the tahadiyeh was in place, Hamas essentially pretended not to be shooting rockets at Israel, leaving that "privilege" to another Iranian proxy, the Islamic Jihad.

Since November, Hamas escalated the rocket launches against Israeli towns with a combined population of over 500,000. It was only a matter of time before the Israeli government had to react.

Hamas did all this not only because it wants to kill Jews, but because the elections in the Palestinian Authority were approaching, and it sought to undermine Palestinian President Abu Mazen's legitimacy.

From the Israeli perspective, Hamas' escalation highlighted the strategic mistake Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert committed by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza in 2005.

Abandoning Gaza brought Hamas' truculence, the anti-Fatah coup, the June 2006 kidnapping of 19-year-old Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and Hezbollah's provocation which resulted in the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

Many in Israel, including on the left, now understand that demonstrations of weakness invite more attacks. The operation in Gaza is supposed to deter terror attacks, and possibly weaken Hamas sufficiently to allow Abu Mazen to cut a deal with Israel over the West Bank. Hezbollah and Hamas's track records and the wars in Lebanon should teach Israel that promises and cease-fires policed by U.N. peacekeepers do not prevent terrorists from rearming.

Aside from Iran's satellite, Syria, no Arab country has shed a tear for Hamas. Indeed, mainstream Arab media have accused Hamas leaders of provoking a war they couldn't win. The Sunni world recognizes that Iran's proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, pose a real threat to them. Moreover, the Arab world views Iran as a real threat.

The leadership in Tehran has repeatedly and publicly mocked and called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Hamas leaders have been accused in the mainstream Arab media of provoking a war they couldn't win.

A nuclear armed Iran - not Israel - as its greatest threat, bringing back historic memories and fears of Persian imperial domination. Hence, no sympathy for Hamas.

Iran and Hezbollah, for their part, have remained largely quiet. There are two explanations. The first was given by the former director of research for Israeli military intelligence, Brig-Gen (Ret.) Yossi Kuperwasser. In a recent presentation he suggested that Iran is so close to producing a nuclear weapon that it enjoys the public opinion distraction, as it did during the 2006 Lebanon War.

According to the second explanation, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly killed the idea of sending volunteers to Gaza to fight Israel, promulgated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's people, either because he wanted to curb Ahmadinejad's influence; or because he expects to open negotiations with the incoming U.S. Barack Obama administration.

This leaves strange bedfellows: Osama bin Laden, the United Nations, and a slew of international organizations and NGOs, arguing the case for Hamas. They only trumpet the suffering of the Palestinian civilians, forgetting that it was Hamas who condemned these civilians to suffer.

All the rest of the world - those who care about the right of nations for self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, those who oppose Sharia rule and terror states, those who are concerned about the Iranian domination of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, those who fear a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world - should work for the demise of Hamas.

But Hamas would suffer no degradation under the precipitously cooked up French-Egyptian plan. It contains no provision for intercepting the Iranian weapons continuously ferried into Hamas hands via the Gaza tunnels that constitute an underground railroad.

This plan also lacks a credible border guard component. The Egyptians have never been able to stop the flow of Iranian rockets and other ammo into Gaza, and they refuse to let foreign troops be deployed on their border. And even if international peacekeepers were allowed, they would never dream of raiding the mosques and schools where Hamas hides its smuggling tunnel entrances and weapons depots.

The solution to the Hamas threat to Gaza's residents and to elusive hope for peace lies elsewhere. In the 1982 Lebanon War, Israel kicked Yasser Arafat's PLO out of Beirut. Terrorists were evacuated on ships to Tunis, Yemen and Iraq. Their threat subsided for years. Hamas should be today's candidate for relocation - to Syria, Libya or Iran. The United Nations could provide the evacuation corridor and ships.

Israel could also consider retaking the Philadelphi corridor along Gaza's Egyptian border, where Hamas and other terrorists smuggle weapons and contraband. After all the tunnels are destroyed, the Israelis may be replaced by international peacekeepers with enough engineering equipment to prevent yet another undermining of the dream of peace.

Finally, Egypt needs to commit to work with friendly intelligence services to interdict Iranian weapons smuggling via Somalia, Sudan> and the Nile Valley. The United States and Israel are close to signing a memorandum on intelligence cooperation in this area. Only if all these steps are taken will there be hope that the Hamas threat can be removed.

Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First  appeared in the Middle East Times