Unwilling to control its fighters, who fired scores of missiles into Israel at the end of their six-month ceasefire, Hamas gave Israel the provocation it needed to deliver a savage blow to the Palestinian enclave in Gaza.
Saturday was the bloodiest day in the history of the Palestinian people since being driven from their homes in the War of 1948. One thousand were killed or wounded, as the Israeli Air Force conducted over a hundred strikes -- on graduation ceremonies for Hamas fighters, police stations and storage sites for rockets.
About Israel's right and duty to defend its border towns, there is no dispute. When Hamas permits Gaza to be used as a launch pad for rockets, it must expect retaliation. Nor can Hamas claim some right to dictate the limits of that retaliation.
Yet the wisdom of so savage a retribution for rockets that killed not one Israeli is open to question. And crass Israeli politics seems to be behind this premeditated and planned blitz.
With Likud's hawkish "Bibi" Netanyahu ahead in the polls for the Feb. 10 election, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Labor's candidate, had to show that he, too, could be ruthless with Hamas.
Kadima Party candidate and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has an even greater need than the highly decorated Barak to show toughness. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, departing in scandal, wants to exit in a blaze of glory, to blot out the memory of a botched war against Hezbollah that he launched in the summer of 2006.
However, while Israel's politicians all seem to have a stake in these devastating strikes, Israel herself will pay the price.
Given the casualty toll, over 300 dead and 1,300 wounded as of this writing, Hamas will have to exact its pound of flesh. The Hamas wing that seeks renewed war with Israel will now shout into silence the wing working with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on a new ceasefire.
The moderate Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas, who has been talking to Israel, testifying to her good faith, has been made to appear the puppet and fool. A new intifada spreading to the West Bank, with suicide attacks inside Israel, is now possible.
Moderate Arabs, who have recognized Israel or backed peace, will now be seen by the Arab street as appeasers impotent to stop the public suffering of the Palestinian people.
As for President Bush's hopes of midwifing a peace that would create a Palestinian state, they are as dead as the Annapolis process he set in train. In advancing peace in the Middle East, Bush's eight-year record is now a near-absolute failure.
For four years, Bush refused to talk to Yasir Arafat, though Bill Clinton had negotiated with him, as had four Israeli prime ministers, two of who shared a Nobel Prize with Arafat. In his second term, Bush, after insisting Hamas be included in free elections in Palestine, refused to recognize Hamas when it won those elections.
Arafat was a terrorist and Hamas is a terrorist organization, declared Bush, and we don't negotiate with terrorists. Yet, Bush de-listed Libya as a state sponsor of terror and sent Condi Rice to chat up Col. Gadhafi, though Gadhafi still has on his hands the blood of scores of American school kids from the Lockerbie massacre of 1989 that Libya and Gadhafi engineered
For eight years, like the "dummy" in a hand of bridge, Bush has sat mute as his Israeli partner, Sharon or Olmert, played America's cards as well as their own. The Bush response to Saturday's carnage, as anticipated, was to blame Hamas for causing it and urge Israelis to be careful about civilian casualties as they go about their reprisals.
Whatever Israel decides, we support. For eight years that has been the most reliable guide to U.S. Middle East policy.
And Barack Obama? Forty-eight hours after the Israeli blitz began, he and his national security team remain silent.
Hopefully, Obama will bring with him a new Mideast policy, one made in the U.S.A., for the U.S.A. Hopefully, just as Israel has its private links to Syria through Turkey, to Hamas through Egypt and to Hezbollah, Obama will establish independent U.S. channels to all three, and adopt a separate U.S. policy toward all three, as Israel does.
While the United States must support Israel's right to defend her towns and to strike bases from which Israelis are being attacked, Obama should denounce the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, by Israel's cutting off their electricity in the dead of winter and denying them the food and medicine many need to survive.
For us to remain silent in the face of this comports neither with our interests or our values. Israel's policy of withholding from the weak and innocent of Gaza, women and children, the necessities of life, to punish the guilty who rule at the point of a gun, is a policy that Obama should declare the United States will no longer support with tax dollars.