Gaza War: Reinforcing Hamas?

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Okay, we all know by now that Israel was “justified” in mounting a major offensive against Hamas to stop the rocket fire from Gaza.  We’ve sure heard it enough from Jewish groups across the political spectrum that have rallied to Israel’s defense as, predictably, world opinion turns against the Jewish state.

But was the offensive smart? In the long term, will an all-out assault like this, with the inevitable civilian causalities and massive displacement of civilians,  advance Israel’s goals of a weakened Hamas, a strengthened position for Palestinian “moderates” and growing Palestinian support for a peace deal that begins by accepting Israel’s right to exist?

Today’s New York Times carries a story that reaches some pessimistic conclusions.

“With each day, the (Palestinian) Authority, its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its leading party, Fatah, seem increasingly beleaguered and marginalized, even in the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, which they control,” Isabel Kershner writes.  “The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas’ support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, already considered corrupt and distant from average Palestinians.”

According to the report, even Israel no longer expects  Fatah to play much of a role after the war is over, or at least the  current phase of the war.

So Hamas may be hurt militarily – but reinforced politically.  And Abbas, the man Israel is counting on to move the Palestinians toward a peace leaders in Jerusalem believe is their best hope for long term security, may have been rendered irrelevant by the offensive.

The NYT report, of course, is not the last word.  Israeli officials continue to believe that undermining Hamas’ ability to wage war should be a top priority, and there is some evidence the current fighting is doing that, at least for the short term.

But it does reflect the question American Jewish groups, so focused on defending Israel’s right to act, want to ignore: was this the best option for dealing with a terrorist group that has gained control of Gaza and wants to do the same thing on the West Bank?  Over the long haul, will the way Israel is fighting this war help or hurt its goals for the region?

It raises questions about whether the Jewish groups that have rallied to Israel’s defense undermine their credibility by focusing only on the question of justification.

We are so accustomed to bias against Israel, to the outrages of a UN leadership that blames Israel for everything and its enemies for nothing,  that we focus only on the question of who’s right and who’s wrong.

Well, if you’re on the receiving end of daily rocket barrages – or suicide bombers –  the answer is pretty obvious.   It  can be pretty infuriating, listening to supposedly humanitarian organizations saying it’s all your fault you have to hide in bomb shelters. It’s easy to see why Israelis and their supporters are mad.

But “right” isn’t the same thing as “smart.” Reacting out of indignation and a sense of being wronged can further obscure the question of whether an action makes sense, whether it is likely to advance your goals.

I’m not saying the Gaza fighting isn’t smart; it may be that we’ll only learn the answer to that after the fighting ends and the political repercussions begin to emerge. I am saying the question is not an insignificant one – and that American Jewish groups, so focused on defending Israel’s right to respond and lashing out at those who say it doesn’t, may be missing that important point.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.