A fight for Is­rael’s ex­is­tence

The Covington News - - OPINION - Richard Co­hen is a writer with the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. He can be reached at co­henr@wash­post.com.

Is­rael fought its first war, in 1948, against five Arab na­tions — Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan — as well as the Pales­tini­ans. In the pre­dic­tion of the fairly new CIA, the out­come was never in doubt: “Without sub­stan­tial out­side aid in terms of man­power and ma­te­rial, they [the Jews] will be able to hold out no longer than two years.” It has now been 66 years, but I fear that sooner or later, the CIA’s con­clu­sion could turn out to be right.

It does not seem that way at the mo­ment. The five Arab armies of 1948 are now down to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This is a strug­gle whose end can­not be in doubt. The Is­raelis will de­grade Hamas’ mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties — its rocket-launch­ing sites and its tun­nels — and end for a time its abil­ity to at­tack Is­rael. Ev­ery rocket, no mat­ter how prim­i­tive and wob­bly, is an act of war.

Since 1948, na­tion af­ter na­tion has re­tired to the side­lines. Egypt and Jordan have made peace with Is­rael. Saudi Ara­bia, which stayed out of the first war, has lit­tle de­sire for any sub­se­quent one. Lebanon has been bat­tered too of­ten by Is­rael to still have a taste for war. Iraq is com­ing apart at the seams and can fight no one. Syria, too, is a chaotic mess, no longer re­ally a na­tion and now more of a ge­o­graphic des­ig­na­tion. With the ex­cep­tion of Hezbol­lah and Hamas, no one much wants to fight. Happy days should be here ... again.

But they are not. In my es­ti­ma­tion, Is­rael now fights not just to clear out the tun­nels and rid Gaza of its rock­ets but for its very ex­is­tence. This war that Is­rael will of course win has seen its once hap­less en­emy, Hamas, launch hun­dreds of rock­ets a day, some of them land­ing in the Tel Aviv area, a few go­ing as far as Haifa. The Iron Dome anti-mis­sile sys­tem has re­port­edly done won­ders, but the law of av­er­ages in­sists that a rocket will get through and Tel Aviv will be hit — and then hit again.

The na­tions that once went to war vow­ing to push Is­rael into the sea are un­sta­ble, rick­ety cre­ations. They are un­der siege not from Is­rael but from their own re­li­gious zealots. What­ever emerges is go­ing to be ei­ther less ac­cept­ing of Is­rael or ma­ni­a­cally in­tent on an­ni­hi­lat­ing it. Even Egypt, which is now un­der mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, could re­vert once again to a govern­ment of the Mus­lim Brother­hood, the ide­o­log­i­cal par­ent of Hamas, and deeply anti-Semitic. In time, Is­rael could be sur­rounded by states that would make Hamas seem the soul of mod­er­a­tion. It does not, af­ter all, go in for be­head­ings and such.

There is a sad metro­nomic rhythm to Is­rael’s wars with Hamas and Hezbol­lah. Is­rael wins ev­ery time, but ev­ery war is in­cre­men­tally ex­is­ten­tial. Is­raelis are in­creas­ingly look­ing over their shoul­der. About 60 per­cent of them ei­ther have or wish they had a se­cond pass­port (of­ten from an an­ces­tral Euro­pean coun­try) and a large num­ber of them — maybe as many as 500,000 — al­ready live in the United States. The way­ward Hamas rocket, so id­i­ot­i­cally triv­i­al­ized by Is­rael’s crit­ics, doesn’t have to kill any­one to take a toll. Peo­ple will seek safety as surely as wa­ter seeks its own level.

Hamas thinks it is win­ning the cur­rent war — which is why it re­jected the Egyp­tian-bro­kered cease­fire pro­posal. Not a sin­gle ma­jor Hamas leader has been killed. Sooner or later an in­ter­me­di­ary will in­sist on a peace agree­ment. That in­ter­me­di­ary should be Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry. He must de­mand no more tun­nels and no more rock­ets. Hamas can stay in Gaza, and Is­rael seems will­ing to ease its block­ade. But both goods and funds have to be used to ben­e­fit the Pales­tinian peo­ple — not to build (or im­port) rock­ets or re­sume the tun­nel­ing.

A deal is there to be made — but the U.S. has to ei­ther make it or de­ter­mine its out­come. The ef­fort can­not be left to coun­tries that are hos­tile to Is­rael — Turkey and Qatar come to mind — or the Mid­dle East will once again wind up with a peace that is just a pre­lude to more war.

Is­rael is the le­gal cre­ation of the United Na­tions. It has an ab­so­lute right not merely to ex­ist but to do so safe from rock­ets or in­cur­sions by tun­nel­ing ter­ror­ists. In 1948, Harry Tru­man swiftly rec­og­nized Is­rael. Amer­ica took the lead. It is time for it do so again.



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