Knowing the enemy

Posted: Jul 14, 2006 12:01 AM

Israel is currently fighting a two-front war after both Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon attacked across international frontiers. We await denunciations of these acts of aggression from the United Nations Security Council, the European Union or human rights organizations. Denunciations of Israel, of course, are swift. The U.S. vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution condemning Israel. An angry e-mailer writes to me demanding to know how Israel can justify attacking the Beirut airport. And as if taking orders directly from Tehran, Amnesty International condemned Israel for striking at Lebanon. Amnesty also called upon Hizbollah to treat the two IDF soldiers it kidnapped humanely -- but amazingly did not call upon Hizbollah to release them.

The Washington Post, hoping to provide context for this crisis, provides a chart in the July 13 edition labeled "Events that led to the military escalation in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon." Under "Gaza," the Post starts with the swearing in of the Hamas government on March 29. Fair enough. But the next item is "June 9: Explosion kills seven members of a Gaza family. Witnesses blame Israeli artillery, but Israel denies it." Missing is any reference to the non-stop shelling of Israel from the Gaza strip that began in 2005 and has not let up since. Nearly 3,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel.

And why? If you believe the conventional wisdom about the conflict, then getting Israeli "occupying" forces out of Gaza (and the West Bank) was exactly what the Palestinians most fervently wished to achieve. The occupation, they ceaselessly wailed, was what kept them from a decent life, from economic advancement, from dignity and from peace. They could not be expected, advised Hanan Ashrawi and a host of other spokesmen, to cease their terror against Israel so long as the occupation continued. When Israel, for its own reasons, elected to accommodate them and withdrew from Gaza (even uprooting several thousand Israeli settlers in the process), the Palestinian moment should have dawned.

Instead of starting to build their "secular democratic state," the Palestinians immediately began attacking Israel across the border. Strange behavior for people whose supposed goal was an independent state living side by side with Israel. But not so strange if the Palestinians' goal is actually to eliminate the Jewish state -- as the Hamas movement, winner of the last election, is pledged to do. (Which is why many hardheaded Israelis believe withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake. The Palestinians interpreted it as a sign of weakness.)

Anyone who has watched what the Palestinians have become over the past quarter-century could not be deluded into believing that their goal was peace. Under the thugocracy of Yasser Arafat, and aided by the Islamic radicals, the Palestinians (and Arabs generally) have been steeped in the most bitter hatred it is possible for one people to feel for another. No crime is so monstrous or incredible that it has not been attributed to Jews and Israelis, no motive more base and no power more exaggerated. The Washington Post quotes a Lebanese butcher on the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers: "As soon as I heard the news I was overjoyed. It was like Italy winning the World Cup."

A poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center found that 77 percent of Palestinians agree. Sixty-seven percent support further abductions.

Another piece of conventional wisdom that cannot stand up to the weight of recent events is the notion that Sunnis and Shiites will never cooperate. While it is true that a low-grade civil war is now underway between the two groups in Baghdad, the Shiites in Lebanon (who serve Iran) seem to be having no difficulty working with the Sunnis in Gaza. In fact, as Michael Ledeen reports in National Review Online (where, by the way, you can also find my new blog at, the mullahs in Iran have quite openly supported the Baathist "insurgents" in Iraq. There are rumors that Shiite Iran is harboring Sunni Osama bin Laden. What could draw these traditional foes into one another's arms? Only a common enemy.