Is­rael’s sucker’s game on the Gaza border

The Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • BY CARO­LINE B. GLICK www.Caro­

There was a de­press­ing fa­mil­iar­ity both to Ha­mas’s sui­cide protest op­er­a­tion along Gaza’s border with Is­rael this week and to Is­rael’s re­sponse to it.

Ha­mas’s ji­hadist regime in Gaza doesn’t have a lot of cards to play in its con­tin­u­ous war against the Jewish state. But, as we have been see­ing since Ha­mas launched its campaign against the border six weeks ago, it does have one card, and no mat­ter how of­ten it plays that card, Is­rael can’t seem to fig­ure out how to beat it.

Ha­mas’s card is Western hos­til­ity to Is­rael. The Western me­dia, along with the EU and most Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, hate Is­rael. Left­ist gov­ern­ments in other Western coun­tries – Canada un­der Justin Trudeau, the US un­der Barack Obama, are sim­i­larly dis­posed.

Act­ing on the sure knowl­edge that the Western me­dia, the EU and the in­ter­na­tional Left will al­ways side with Is­rael’s enemies against it, Ha­mas’s high card is its abil­ity to stage as­saults on Is­rael that pro­vide Is­rael’s haters in the West with a pre­tense for con­demn­ing it.

For more than a decade Ha­mas has de­ployed Western Is­rael-haters along­side Pales­tinian civil­ians as sui­cide pro­test­ers used for anti-Is­rael photo-ops. In 2003, Rachel Cor­rie, the Is­rael-hat­ing ac­tivist from Wash­ing­ton state, walked in front of a gi­ant IDF bull­dozer build­ing the border wall sep­a­rat­ing Gaza from Egypt’s Si­nai. The driver couldn’t see her, ran her over, and Ha­mas and its Western part­ners cre­ated a blood li­bel of Cor­rie’s mar­tyr­dom.

In 2010, with Turk­ish as­sis­tance and spon­sor­ship, Ha­mas launched the so-called “hu­man­i­tar­ian flotilla” to break Is­rael’s law­ful, and in­deed, legally man­dated, block­ade of the Gaza coast.

Ha­mas and Turkey de­ployed a mix of civil­ians and ter­ror­ists in civil­ian ships and boats to launch a sui­cide protest against Is­rael at sea. The 2010 flotilla was led by the mas­sive Turk­ish cruise ship Mavi Mar­mara. Aboard the ship were 630 Is­rael-hat­ing Western­ers and 40 ter­ror­ists from Turkey’s regime-sup­ported, al-Qaeda-al­lied IHH group.

Rather than un­der­stand what Ha­mas was do­ing – reen­act­ing the Cor­rie sui­cide protest on a larger scale – and act­ing to block the flotilla from set­ting sail, Is­rael chose to deal with the flotilla on its own terms. Ig­nor­ing the dan­ger to its forces, the IDF sent naval com­man­dos to in­ter­dict the ships and up­hold the block­ade of Gaza, armed with paint­ball guns.

As the Western ac­tivists hud­dled in their cab­ins, IHH ter­ror­ists waited for the com­man­dos on the Mavi Mar­mara’s deck. As they were low­ered onto the deck from he­li­copters, the naval com­man­dos were be­set by IHH men who stabbed them with axes and knives and blud­geoned them with crow bars.

Nine sol­diers were wounded, three se­ri­ously. In the pitched, hours-long bat­tle that fol­lowed, nine IHH ter­ror­ists were killed.

And as pre­dictably as the sun rising in the east, the Western me­dia ig­nored the facts and at­tacked Is­rael. The Euro­peans con­demned Is­rael. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion con­demned Is­rael. Obama forced Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu to apol­o­gize to Turk­ish dic­ta­tor Re­cep Er­do­gan who spon­sored the assault. And Ha­mas re­ceived le­git­i­macy and ma­te­rial con­ces­sions that en­abled it to pre­pare its forces for the 2014 war it launched against Is­rael.

Ha­mas’s op­er­a­tions chief for the Mavi Mar­mara flotilla was Za­har al-Bi­rawi. As Yoni Ben Me­nachem from the Jerusalem Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs re­ported in March, Bi­rawi, a Ha­mas and Mus­lim Broth­er­hood op­er­a­tive, holds the ti­tle, of “li­ai­son for the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee for Break­ing the Em­bargo on the Gaza Strip.”

Rea­son­ably, af­ter his great suc­cess with the Mavi Mar­mara sui­cide “protest,” Bi­rawi was given com­mand of the cur­rent sui­cide protest op­er­a­tion at the border. His ba­sic con­cept of in­ter­spers­ing civil­ians with Ha­mas ter­ror­ists and us­ing the for­mer as cover for the lat­ter and as can­non fod­der is the com­mon thread of both op­er­a­tions.

If Is­rael had learned the proper les­sons from the Mavi Mar­mara, things might have turned out dif­fer­ently on Mon­day. But from the looks of things, it learned all the wrong les­sons.

Once Bi­rawi and his com­rades suc­cess­fully de­ployed 50,000 Gazans to the border, there was lit­tle chance of avoid­ing a sig­nif­i­cant death toll. That is, Ha­mas achieved its goals the minute it brought its peo­ple to the border.

More than 60 Gazans were killed on Mon­day. But the out­come for Is­rael would have been the same no mat­ter how high or low the ca­su­alty count. The me­dia mouthed Ha­mas’s talk­ing points. On cue, the likes of the BBC and The Wash­ing­ton Post ac­cused Is­rael of wan­tonly and de­lib­er­ately mas­sacring chil­dren.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials rightly blame the me­dia and the Euro­peans for the deaths of the civil­ians who were in­ter­spersed with ter­ror­ists along Gaza’s border with Is­rael this week. But the fact that the me­dia are com­plicit tells us only one thing: Ha­mas is right to use the me­dia.

In other words, notic­ing the hos­til­ity of the me­dia – and their politi­cian com­rades in the EU, Canada and the US Demo­cratic Party – won’t get Is­rael any fur­ther along in de­vel­op­ing the means to block Ha­mas from us­ing its tried and true high card of sui­cide. Com­plain­ing about me­dia hos­til­ity and pro­fes­sional neg­li­gence is not a strat­egy. It isn’t even a tac­tic. It’s a re­flex.

To un­der­stand what a strat­egy – or even a tac­tic – looks like, it is im­por­tant to note two things. First, Ha­mas’s strat­egy is not risk-free. Sec­ond, Is­rael has its own to play.

There are three in­her­ent, and sig­nif­i­cant, weak­nesses to Ha­mas’s sui­cide protest strat­egy. To un­der­stand the first, con­sider that on Tues­day, a doc­tor at Gaza City’s Shifa Hos­pi­tal re­futed re­ports that an in­fant had been killed due to tear gas in­hala­tion at the border. On Wed­nes­day, Ha­mas spokesman Salah Barawil said 50 of the 62 peo­ple killed at the border on Mon­day were Ha­mas ter­ror­ists.

Why is Ha­mas min­i­miz­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties? Doesn’t that un­der­cut its goal of dele­git­imiz­ing Is­rael?

Ha­mas’s lead­er­ship feels it can min­i­mize civil­ian ca­su­al­ties be­cause it trusts the Western me­dia to ig­nore its state­ments. And they are right to trust the me­dia. Western me­dia cov­er­age of Ha­mas’s border campaign re­mained uni­formly sup­port­ive of Ha­mas and hate­ful to­ward Is­rael even af­ter the doc­tor and Bar­dawil ac­knowl­edged that Is­rael did not kill ei­ther chil­dren or a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of civil­ians on Mon­day.

Ha­mas lead­ers were com­pelled to min­i­mize re­ports of civil­ian ca­su­al­ties be­cause the re­ports made their pub­lic turn on them.

So the first weak­ness in Ha­mas’s sui­cide protest strat­egy is that Gazans don’t like it. Its sec­ond weak­ness is Egypt. Egypt – like Is­rael – rec­og­nizes that Ha­mas is its en­emy. Ha­mas openly col­lab­o­rates with the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and Is­lamic State forces in Si­nai wag­ing an in­sur­gency against the regime and threat­en­ing its very ex­is­tence. Ac­cord­ing to Is­rael Hayom, Egyptian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence com­pelled Ha­mas to end its border op­er­a­tion on Mon­day evening by telling Ha­mas leader Is­mail Haniyeh that if he didn’t end the op­er­a­tion, Egypt would sup­port Is­raeli efforts to tar­get Ha­mas’s lead­ers.

Whereas Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan has led the charge against Is­rael in the Is­lamic world over Ha­mas’s sui­cide campaign along the border, the Egyp­tians and the Saudis have been sup­port­ive of Is­rael’s efforts to end the op­er­a­tion.

Ha­mas’s third weak­ness is the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Whereas the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion sup­ported Ha­mas (and Turkey) against Is­rael dur­ing the Mavi Mar­mara op­er­a­tion, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been un­stint­ingly sup­port­ive of Is­rael and placed all the blame for the deaths along the border on Ha­mas.

The con­flu­ence of Egyptian and Amer­i­can sup­port is new and it pro­vides Is­rael with new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

So given Ha­mas’s weak­nesses, what can Is­rael do to un­der­cut its sui­cide protest strat­egy?

Since Ha­mas wins the minute it suc­cess­fully de­ploys its sui­cide pro­test­ers, the first fo­cus of Is­rael’s efforts should be the de­vel­op­ment of the means to pre­vent the protests from tak­ing place in the first place.

In 2010, rather than send paint­ball-armed com­man­dos to com­man­deer the Mavi Mar­mara, Is­rael should have sent them to Turkey and Cyprus to pre­vent the ships from set­ting sail. Is­rael has taken such ac­tions in the past. But it ap­pears the cur­rent crop of gen­er­als lacks the au­dac­ity of its pre­de­ces­sors. This must change.

Sim­i­larly, in the count­down to Ha­mas’s ini­ti­a­tion of its sui­cide protest border campaign, the IDF threat­ened to sanc­tion Gaza bus com­pa­nies that trans­port pro­test­ers to the border. Not sur­pris­ingly, the bus op­er­a­tors pre­fer to take their chances with Is­rael than risk their lives with Ha­mas. A bet­ter plan would have been to dis­able the buses. So, too, how many Gazans would have ap­proached the border if the area were cov­ered in an­i­mal and hu­man fe­ces on Mon­day morn­ing?

These ac­tions are min­i­mally in­va­sive, non­lethal and highly ef­fec­tive. Since Ha­mas wins the minute the sui­cide pro­tester dies, Is­rael needs to pre­vent them from gath­er­ing.

Dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge, Ha­mas’s 2014 war against Is­rael, the Egyp­tians, Saudis and the UAE were as sup­port­ive of Is­rael as Egypt has been this week, and for the same rea­son. They view Ha­mas as an ex­is­ten­tial threat to their regimes. But their sup­port only took Is­rael so far, be­cause the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, which sup­ported Ha­mas, sought to re­place them as me­di­a­tors with Ha­mas’s spon­sors Turkey and Qatar.

To­day, with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion firmly sup­port­ive of Is­rael – and Egypt – the gov­ern­ment and the IDF have the op­por­tu­nity to con­sider fur­ther op­tions for weak­en­ing Ha­mas’s grip on power.

De­press­ingly, rather than weigh its ac­tual op­tions, the IDF has re­newed its call to bring in fur­ther hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to Gaza, ap­par­ently think­ing that do­ing so will di­min­ish me­dia crit­i­cism. But the rea­son there is a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Gaza is that the Ha­mas regime has cre­ated and es­ca­lated and per­pet­u­ated it. So long as Ha­mas con­trols Gaza, Gaza will be steeped in a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis. Is­rael’s efforts to mit­i­gate it, like its efforts to con­vince The New York Times to re­port the truth, are a fu­tile waste of time, re­sources and en­ergy.

This brings us to Is­rael’s Western an­tag­o­nists. Bri­tish Foreign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son and his com­rades are right to be­moan Gaza’s hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tion. But Is­rael can’t do any­thing about it. When the IDF of­fers hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to Gaza, it is play­ing the sucker role Ha­mas has given it. When Is­rael of­fers hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, it is pre­sent­ing it­self as ca­pa­ble of ame­lio­rat­ing a sit­u­a­tion it didn’t cause, hasn’t con­trib­uted to and can­not fix.

It is time for Is­rael’s lead­ers, in­clud­ing the IDF, to stop be­ing suck­ers. Rather than send­ing more truck­loads of ce­ment and food, used to build at­tack tun­nels and feed ter­ror­ists, Is­rael should say it shares John­son’s con­cerns and thinks it would be fan­tas­tic if Bri­tain, and France and Ger­many and Canada, would give refuge to the suf­fer­ing Gazans. Is­rael could fa­cil­i­tate their tran­sit.

Is­rael doesn’t have to keep let­ting Ha­mas win. It has weak­nesses. We have op­tions. It is time that we start us­ing them.

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