What on earth could have prompted the Israeli government to negotiate the current "cease-fire" with Hamas? What could have brought the government to negotiate with this Iranian proxy group which makes no bones about its intention to use the lull in fighting to expand its arsenal and army ahead of the next round of fighting? What could have motivated Jerusalem to pave the way for Hamas's acceptance as a legitimate regime in the international arena?
The most vocal advocate of embracing Hamas has been Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And on the heels of the "truce," Barak and his associates are now pushing for the government to approve Hamas's demand that Israel release of up to a thousand terrorists from its prisons in exchange for Gilad Schalit, who was illegally kidnapped to Gaza two years ago.
In an attempt to explain his actions, Barak spoke last week to sympathetic Ha'aretz columnist Ari Shavit. In a supportive column, Shavit explained that Barak himself is under no illusion about the nature of Hamas or the chances of reaching a long-term accommodation with the Iranian-controlled jihadist movement that seeks Israel's destruction. The rationale for the move, he explains is Barak's assertion that the only way to justify a military operation – which will involve military and civilian casualties – is to first demonstrate that Israel had no other recourse but to act in its own defense.
As Shavit put it, "Since the repercussions of an operation could be grave, it is necessary first to try the other alternative – so that every mother liable to lose her son in the Gaza alleyways will know. So that every civilian in the Gaza envelope liable to get hit during the fighting with Hamas will know. So that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will know that Israel did not choose a military move, which the Egyptians fear, before giving a chance to the diplomatic move they initiated."
SINCE THIS is the line being offered by the government today to justify its actions, it is worth considering it. The first question that arises is whether Barak's expressed concern about mothers of soldiers and Israelis who live within Hamas's rocket and missile range is genuine.
At Sunday's cabinet meeting, Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin gave the government his first post-cease-fire intelligence briefing. Diskin told the cabinet ministers that since Thursday, Hamas has stepped up its arms smuggling and military training. The significance of his statement is clear. The Hamas that Israel will confront in the aftermath of Barak's cease-fire will be a more formidable foe that it was before the cease-fire. And consequently, more soldiers will need to sacrifice their lives in the postponed confrontation. And since Hamas is using this lull to expand its arsenals, it will no doubt expand the range of its missiles. Consequently, more Israeli civilians will be attacked by Hamas rockets and missiles in the inevitable, delayed showdown than would have been under fire if it had been launched this week.
In other words, far from being informed by his concern for Israeli civilians and the families of soldiers, Barak's embrace of Hamas as a negotiating partner has ensured that more Israelis will be burying their loved ones when the cease-fire leads inevitably to war. Indeed, it is because of this that residents of Sderot have been the loudest proponents of military action and the angriest opponents of the government's cease-fire agreement with Hamas.
So if Barak is unconcerned with the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians, who is he playing to in negotiating the cease-fire?
LIKE MANY Israeli leaders in recent years, Barak is concerned with how the Israeli appeasement lobby will react to a confrontation. He hopes that by appeasing Hamas now, these people – many of whom are Labor Party members and voters – will forgive him when the inevitable occurs.
Israel's appeasement lobby is comprised of Israeli Arabs, the Meretz party to which post-Zionist Labor voters and politicians can always defect, university professors, and small but well-funded pressure groups like Uri Avineri's Gush Shalom organization and Peace Now. Here it bears mention that the Labor party's membership drives in Arab villages in recent years have given its Arab members – who vote as a bloc – a controlling influence over the results of Labor party primaries that determine the identity of the party leader and Labor's Knesset faction. Many Labor leaders – like former party chief Binyamin Ben Eliezer who was unseated by Arab Labor party members – have bemoaned this fact and noted that Arab members of Labor don't even vote for the party in general elections.
What is most disturbing about Barak's pandering to Israel's appeasement lobby is that past experience has shown clearly that Israel's appeasement lobby is itself unappeaseable. That is, there nothing that Israel's enemies can do that will cause members of Israel's appeasement lobby to support IDF operations.
ON JUNE 1, 2001, a Palestinian bomber exploded himself at the Dolphinarium nightclub in Tel Aviv and murdered 21 Israeli teenagers. The public outcry was deafening. Popular support for a counter terror offensive aimed at destroying the Palestinian Authority and killing or expelling arch-terrorist Yassir Arafat was at an all-time high as the dimensions of the massacre, and the identity of the victims became clear.
Yet then-prime minister Ariel Sharon ignored the public and refused to act. As his spokesmen made clear, Sharon was concerned that the Israeli appeasement lobby would join forces with Europe to condemn such an IDF operation. And so, in an attempt to appease his far-Left antagonists, Sharon waited ten months to act. During that time, he engaged in fruitless US and European sponsored talks with the Palestinians. He bowed to their pressure and began referring to Judea and Samaria as "occupied," and so demoralized his own constituents. And as he took these steps, another 250 Israelis were murdered by the Palestinians.
Sharon approved Operation Defensive Shield in the aftermath of the Palestinian massacre of 30 Israelis celebrating the Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. While his supporters often laud Sharon for his courage in acting, the fact is that had Sharon not acted after the Passover massacre, the public and his party would likely have booted him out of office.
Sharon's long refusal to defend his citizens from murder by the Palestinian massacre machine did not win him any sympathy with the appeasers. During Defensive Shield Uri Avineri from Gush Shalom and Israeli professors like Niv Gordon rushed to Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah to act as "human shields," physically opposing IDF operations. Israeli professors signed petitions calling for foreign divestment from Israel and urged their students to refuse to serve in reserve duty. Arab Israeli leaders like MKs Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara similarly joined forces with Arafat. And of course, Europe experienced its worst wave of anti-Semitic attacks since the Holocaust as European leaders, joined by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan, and their media organs and international human right organizations lined up behind Arafat and accused Israel of committing war crimes.
IN THE end, the only ones who actively supported the IDF's 2002 counter-offensive were the Israeli public, the US public, and world Jewry. And ironically, these were the same forces that would have supported an IDF offensive after the Dolphinarium massacre ten months earlier. The US government – which did not stridently object to Operation Defensive Shield – acted no differently than it would have if Israel had taken action at that earlier juncture. So Sharon's decision to avert confrontation for ten long months – during which 250 Israelis were murdered and thousands were wounded – accomplished nothing.
But what about Barak's argument about Egypt? Will Egypt support
a future IDF operation in Gaza when the cease-fire it has mediated falls apart? The answer here is similarly obvious: Of course not. Since 2000, when Egypt began hosting "cease-fire" talks among various terror masters in Cairo, the Mubarak regime has done more than any other government to legitimize Hamas.
Moreover, in diplomatic forums, Israel has no greater enemy than Egypt. Cairo uses every international and regional stage to attack the Jewish state.
Then too, Egypt has permitted Hamas to use its territory as its logistical base for arming Gaza and sending hundreds of terror operatives to Iran and Lebanon for training.
Egypt has done all of this because it believes that its national interests are advanced by weakening Israel. Were Egypt to support an Israeli offensive against Gaza, it would be strengthening Israel. And so under no circumstances will Cairo ever support an IDF operation against Hamas. Pretending it will is to engage in reckless fantasizing.
SO THEN, why has Barak led the government to embrace Hamas as a negotiating partner and a legitimate regime in Gaza?
We are left with two possible explanations. Either Barak is risking the lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians to pander to the most radical elements of Israeli society while seeking to win sympathy points from Cairo in a general election campaign, or he is gullible enough to believe that Israel's radical left and the Egyptian regime are moved by facts rather than interests.
It is hard to know which explanation is more distressing.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.