While pursuing peace, Israel must defend itself

During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy made it clear to Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko that the “gravest consequences” would follow if significant Soviet offensive weapons were introduced into Cuba. The United States was explicit in communicating its intention to answer the clear and present danger with “whatever action is needed.” The threat was credible and supported by the free world. In short, the outcome of America’s strong action was the prevention of any advancement of Soviet weapons in Cuba, plus no firing of missiles and no war.

For years, Hamas has been developing its arsenal and receiving advanced weaponry from Iran. For years, it has been firing them indiscriminately at the Israeli civilian population. For years, the free world, as much as it supports Israel’s right to defend itself, has not supported Israel’s obligation to its citizens to end this intolerable status quo once and for all.

Nine years ago, a territorial dream came true for Palestinians in Gaza. Israel withdrew its people and military installations from every last inch of the Gaza Strip, heralding the opportunity to turn Gaza into an oasis, as everybody had hoped. Those with high hopes included American Jewish donors who, along with the former World Bank president, bought more than 3,000 greenhouses in Gaza that Israelis had built and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority, seeing them as a crucial asset to create jobs and export income for Gaza’s economy. The greenhouses were looted, an early warning of Gaza’s future plight.

As Hamas assumed power, the organization turned Gaza into a radicalized nightmare of rocket launching pads targeting Israel, and Palestinian political violence. Under Hamas rule, the social and economic challenges of almost two million Palestinians have deepened. Just as the United States exercised its rights in defense of its own security to stop the flow of weapons to Cuba, Israel took action to defend its citizens in a manner proportionate to the threat it faced after demonstrating exemplary patience and restraint. Its actions were vindicated by the U.N.’s Palmer Report as the “legitimate exercise of self-defense” after more than 5,000 rockets, missiles and mortar bombs were launched from Gaza into Israel between 2005 and January 2009.

Those who protest that Hamas’ continuous attacks on Israel are a response to Israel’s actions to defend its own citizens are conflating cause and effect. Similarly, those who have tried to pin the blame on Israel for the latest escalation forget too easily that Hamas rockets were raining down upon Israeli cities long before the tragic murders of four boys, and it is this rocket fire to which Israel has responded with just and proportionate force.

The sheer asymmetry of intention and motive is reflected in the humanitarian commitment of Israel compared with Hamas’ extreme neglect and cynical manipulation of Palestinian civilians. Despite Hamas’ incessant attacks, Israel keeps the border crossing open and continues to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza, with hundreds of trucks providing food and general supplies, 120 tons of gas and 100,000 gallons of fuel delivered per day. During the kidnapping and brutal murder of Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Frenkel by Palestinians who want Israel to be obliterated, Mahmoud Abbas’ wife was treated in an Israeli hospital in Tel Aviv. Recently, the granddaughter of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was treated in Petah Tikvah.

Compare 1962 to 2014, and you will see Israel’s major cities bombarded with rockets. Jerusalem (our D.C.) and Tel Aviv (our New York) are now in range of Hamas’ expanded arsenal, which has been enhanced with Syrian- and Iranian-made rockets. Fortunately, Israeli casualties have so far been minimized because of Israel’s extensive home-front preparation, with warning sirens and bunkers, the activation of the defensive Iron Dome system, and preventive strikes on Hamas underground rocket launchers and on terrorists who are preparing attacks.

Conversely, Hamas builds bunkers and tunnels only for its fighters — not its civilians. It stores weapons in and fires them from schools, mosques and houses, and it urges residents to ignore Israel’s warnings to move away from Hamas sites for their own safety.

This week, Israel’s security cabinet accepted a cease-fire proposal supported by the United States and the Arab League. While Israel suspended its operation for six hours, Hamas responded with an outright rejection of the cease-fire and launched 50 rockets at Israel. Hamas shares the same objective and strategy of groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram and Hezbollah. It glorifies the Islamic Shariah state with no tolerance for Christians, Jews and any forms of Islam that do not conform to its own, a state in which discrimination and inequality are rampant, and where democratic governance is considered heresy.

Despite this latest sad chapter in the century-long onslaught against Jews and the right of Jews to live in the land of Israel, our government still pursues a policy to attain peace and a two-state solution. The United States did not threaten the Soviet Union because it wanted it to disappear but because no nation can accept a direct missile threat to its cities and its people.

Andy David
is Israel’s consul general to the Pacific Northwest.