Israel is fighting a Hydra.
In Greek mythology, the Hydra was an enormous, serpent-like creature with multiple heads that could not be defeated by conventional means; if a would-be hero severed one of the heads, two more would sprout, strengthening the beast. The harder someone tried to destroy the beast, the more dangerous it became.
Like the Hydra, Hamas gets stronger the harder Israel tries to destroy it with military force.
Since the fighting began on Dec. 27, nearly 900 Palestinians have been killed, at least half of them civilians, and 235 of them children. Every innocent Palestinian civilian killed reinforces support for Hamas‘ Islamist, anti-Zionist rhetoric, makes radicals out of the moderate masses, and making peaceful co-existence an even more elusive dream.
Hamas came to power capitalizing on the Palestinian people‘s growing discontent with the way Israel was (and still is) treating them. Hamas is essentially a terrorist organization-turned-political party, as it regularly carries out attacks, including suicide attacks, against Israel. It is a fundamentalist group that has Israel‘s destruction in its founding documents.
It came as no surprise that Israel was terrified when Hamas came to power during the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Israel transformed the Gaza Strip into a virtual prison; it now controls all fuel, food, and water shipments into Gaza and has banned most Palestinians from working within Israel. This was done in hopes of preventing further terrorist infiltration and to undermine support for the Hamas regime.
In 2007, Israel intensified this tactic by cutting fuel shipments to Gaza in hopes of seeding anti-Hamas dissent. Well, as the failure of the U.S. Cuban embargo shows us, the ol‘ “make em‘ miserable and the people will rise up“ trick doesn‘t always work. And in this case it didn‘t; Israel‘s restrictions did little but bolster Hamas‘s support base by making the 1.5 million people living in Gaza more miserable than they already were.
Hamas knows it cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield, thus its tactics are aimed at embarrassing Israel and building its popular support base in the Palestinian public. Hamas thrives on Israeli military action, and its constant but not cataclysmic missile attacks were designed to provoke a violent response.
And provoked Israel was; Hamas‘ refusal to extend the ceasefire, along with its marauding missile attacks gave Israel the right to respond.
But just because Israel had the right to respond doesn‘t mean that it was smart to do so. Israel has the right to defend itself, but the 20 Israeli citizens killed by Hamas‘s missile attacks don‘t justify the deaths of 500 Palestinian civilians. It just doesn‘t.
And by initiating an all-out ground invasion, Israel did exactly what Hamas wanted.
Hamas has no qualms about sacrificing innocents to further its political goals. Hamas hides its fighters among civilians and takes cover in hospitals and schools, knowing and hoping that Israeli attacks will kill innocents. They store their weapons in mosques, knowing that Israeli warplanes will destroy them. In other words, Hamas is doing everything it can to make Israel look really, really bad.
The majority of those living in Gaza don‘t share Hamas‘ fundamentalist sentiments, but when the bombs start to fall, the people shooting back at the invading army start to look a lot like the good guys.
Hamas is winning the propaganda war it sought to win all along.
Israel could have responded to the rocket attacks by only bombing the tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons, leading to fewer civilian casualties and hampering Hamas‘s ability to threaten Israel with missile attacks. Better yet, Israel could have relaxed restrictions on Gaza, creating a political situation where Hamas had no choice but to agree to an extended ceasefire.
Israel‘s current actions in the Gaza Strip might make Israel feel safer in the short term, but in the long run will only strengthen Hamas‘s political credibility, create more terrorists, and plant the seeds for even more violence down the road.
The Hamas Hydra won‘t be slain by conventional means. Another way must be found.
MICHAEL HOWER‘s prayers go out to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and hopes that one day they will be able to cast aside their differences and live together peacefully. Until then, you can reach him at email@example.com.