By Bob Maginnis
Last week Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rushed to the Mideast to discourage Israel from retaliating for a surge in Islamic violence. But the best policy for Israel, America, and the region is the overthrow of the Hamas terrorist regime.
Hamas, meaning “Islamic Resistance Movement,” is the Palestinian Islamist political party that governs the Gaza Strip. It is based on principles of Islamic fundamentalism and is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’ Gaza government is a Taliban-like regime that is brutally repressive, seeks Israel’s destruction, and sponsors terrorism and an Iranian client regime.
Gates understands Hamas is supported by outside forces that want to bait Israel into launching a massive operation. He must also understand an Israeli offensive at this time would further inflame tensions in the troubled Arab world and become a rallying point for protest movements across the Middle East.
Provoking an Israeli offensive into Gaza appears to be the Islamists’ bizarre objective, however. Last week rockets from Gaza struck deeper into Israel than at any time since the January 2009 three-week Israeli Operation Cast Lead. Besides rockets, there was mortar fire into Israeli towns near Gaza, a bus stop bombing in Jerusalem, and two weeks ago, the brutal murder of a Jewish family — including three children — by Palestinian Islamists at a West Bank settlement.
The uptick in attacks comes amid a stalemate in peace talks that has left Palestinian statehood uncertain. Gates came to Israel hoping to restart those talks, which he hopes will then dampen Palestinian violence.
But Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu is doubtful about the peace talks-reduced violence nexus. He said Israel’s security challenges are “legion,” referring not just to the renewed Palestinian attacks but also to other threatening actors who want to leverage the Palestinian violence for nefarious reasons.
Hamas wants to provoke an Israeli attack because it is confident in its ability to shape the future. Specifically, it wants to create a situation that severs Israel’s 32-year alliance with Egypt to give Hamas freedom to expand its Islamist extremism. For now the peace agreement secures Israel’s southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv, and Egypt helps enforce sanctions against extremist groups such as Hamas.
But Hamas intends to bait the Israelis into a military action, expecting that operation will inflame Muslim passions in Egypt. It hopes those passions will force Egypt’s military council to abrogate the treaty with Israel. If that doesn’t work, Hamas anticipates Egypt’s future government will include the Muslim Brotherhood, which views Hamas as its closest ally, and that once in power it will cast aside the treaty.
The Brotherhood’s rise to political prominence became a certainty as a result of Egypt’s just-completed constitutional referendum. Egyptian voters resoundingly (77%) approved changes that favor established political organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which favors the imposition of an Islamic government in the overwhelmingly Muslim country.
Iran, which supplies Hamas with arms and training, hopes to benefit from an Israeli attack on Gaza. It is in a regional tug-of-war for influence with Sunni-majority leader Saudi Arabia and would like nothing better than to upstage Riyadh as the primary sponsor of Palestinian rights, which would highlight the failed Arab foreign policy toward Israel.
Tehran also hopes to bloody Israel in a war of attrition using its proxies. It created the terrorist group Hezbollah in the early 1980s as a proxy against Israel and the West. That group survived a war with Israel in 2006 and is now larger and better-equipped, and has an official government role in Lebanon. An operation launched by Israel into Gaza would likely invite Hezbollah to open a second front to threaten Israel’s northern frontier. Syria could benefit from an Israeli assault on Gaza because it needs a distraction from its current unrest. It is struggling to clamp down on protests in Daraa near the Jordanian border and is wary of the precedent set in Libya, where Western forces are intervening on the side of the protesters under the auspices of protecting civilians.
Damascus has already aided Hamas by providing safe haven to its leadership. It also works closely with Hezbollah to arm and train Hamas. Recall that earlier this month, the Liberian-flagged ship Victoria loaded weapons in Latakia, Syria, and departed for Gaza, but was fortunately intercepted by Israeli commandos.
Jordan is not a military threat to Israel at this point, but the country’s Palestinian majority would use an Israeli assault on Gaza to galvanize its protesters. Palestinian demonstrators set up a tent camp in the center of Amman, in conscious imitation of Tahrir Square in Cairo.
The protesters, who named themselves the March 24 Movement after the date they began camping out, want economic equality and an end to corruption and autocracy. But their protests, which could become violent, might force King Abdullah to give more power to Palestinian Islamists. That might ultimately end the long peace pro-western Jordan has provided Israel, thus jeopardizing Israel’s eastern border.
So what should the U.S. do to help its ally Israel?
President Barack Obama should call for and support the overthrow of Hamas. Overthrowing the terrorist regime at this time might be risky for the reasons cited. But such a policy change, which is unlikely from Obama, would have several important long-term benefits.
It would remove a revolutionary Islamist regime that keeps the area unstable and serves as a trigger for an eventual regional war. It would also blunt Iran’s hegemonic actions in the region, which are already expansive, and send a message to rogues such Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Egypt’s future Islamist-leaning government that Israel has a dependable partner in America. It might also kick-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which is off-track due in part to Palestinian extremism centered in Gaza.
Last week Gates called for “bold action” to address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. That bold action should be an American policy change that supports the overthrow of Hamas so that meaningful negotiations can restart and outsider influence from the likes of Iran and Syria is nipped in the bud.
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