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November 1st, 2014

Insight

The anatomy of terror

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published August 26, 2014

The anatomy of terror
The on-again, off-again war in Gaza and Israel is on again, with a massive barrage of rockets fired at whatever targets Hamas can hope to reach in the Jewish state -- Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, anything and everything in between. The Israelis then strike back with an air assault that, by all signs, will be followed by their next land invasion of the Gaza Strip, their third of the decade. Or maybe fourth or fifth. It's not easy to keep count.

Once again the casualties, military and civilian, mount -- with many more in the offing. Till the only military objective remaining will be to make the rubble bounce. This much is clear: Until this cancer is completely excised, it will metastasize again. And the Israelis will fight back again, and find themselves back in Gaza again, which will be destroyed again. For among the casualties of this latest round of death and destruction may be the illusion that it is possible to negotiate with a cancer, and reach a reasonable compromise with the unreasonable.

We'll see if the Israelis see through that old mirage -- or just keep going through this recurring cycle of attack and retribution, attack and retribution, as peace negotiations lead only to war. Unless they put a definite end to that cycle, it will go on indefinitely.

Whatever the differences between Washington and Jerusalem over foreign policy, there are times when both America and Israel seem to follow the same self-defeating pattern: Win every war, lose every peace.

Maybe things will be different this time. But why should this war in the Middle East be different from all the others? Maybe because some things have changed:

For one, Israeli public opinion seems remarkably united behind this latest war -- a strange sight in a society that's ordinarily not just democratic but wild-and-woolly, its spectrum of opinions as varied as that little country's dramatic climate and geography. Which goes from views of snow-capped Mt. Hermon high in the north to the salty marsh in its south called the Dead Sea -- from some of the highest to lowest elevations on the planet. Just as its moods do.

For another, having finally yielded to the obvious and built a wall -- excuse us, a defensive barrier -- to keep suicide bombers out, this time the Israelis have developed an aerial equivalent: a highly sophisticated system of anti-missile missiles they call Iron Dome. The dream of such a defense used to go by the sci-fi label of Star Wars when Ronald Reagan envisioned deploying it against the late and unlamented Soviet Union back in the last century, and was derided for it. Imagine: a missile that could shoot down another missile -- an anti-ballistic missile! ABM for short. It sounded like something out of Buck Rogers. Or maybe Jules Verne. Now it's making all the difference in this round of hostilities with Hamas. Of the latest barrage of rockets fired at Israeli targets, those headed for empty fields were left to explode harmlessly while others, like the ones headed for Ben Gurion airport, were deflected or destroyed by anti-missiles.

Now, in the usual war-after-the-war known as cease-fire negotiations, the Israelis have made common cause with Egypt, their old foe and new ally now that another general-and-dictator has come to power in that country. After a long period of turmoil, Egypt's popular new leader has cracked down on the Islamists there known as the Muslim Brotherhood and restored a semblance of order. So that now, despite a long history of sporadic enmity, Israelis and Egyptians share an overriding common interest. Both seek a measure of calm and stability that would give each a decent chance to live in peace. In the Middle East, that's a high and at times seemingly impossible aspiration. Something out of a prophet's vision. ("Blessed be Egypt, my people. Blessed be Assyria, the land I have made. Blessed be Israel, my special possession!")

Today Egypt and Israel are informal allies, and have the tacit support of a whole arc of Arab states, from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to what's left of Iraq, all of which have come to recognize that they share a common enemy: the latest wave of fanaticism sweeping out of the desert. And this time Washington, having no discernible foreign policy under our current president, might refrain from using its influence to deny the Israelis the fruits of a military victory.

This time there's no Henry Kissinger around to object when the Israelis seek to replenish their supply of American-made arms and ammunition in the middle of a war for their survival, the way that secretary of state and practitioner of global Realpolitik held back from resupplying them in an earlier war. (It wasn't just the old Soviet Union that Dr. Kissinger sought détente with.)

And so this on-again, off-again war goes on, and not just in the field but over the airwaves. There has seldom if ever been a combatant lawful or unlawful that has so deliberately sacrificed its own people in order to make propaganda points. With malice aforethought, Hamas has intermixed its rocket launchers with Gaza's innocent civilians, and planted its weapons and fighters in the midst of dense residential neighborhoods, or next to schools, hospitals and UN facilities. So that, when they're hit, Hamas can blame the loss of innocent life on Israel's attempt to defend itself. Those sites aren't chosen by accident. But as part of a premeditated strategy that is also a war crime.

To quote a Hamas combat manual, rockets and fighters should be deployed in the middle of thickly populated neighborhoods because that means Israeli "soldiers and commanders must limit their use of weapons and tactics that lead to harm and unnecessary loss of civilian homes...." Hamas views Gaza's people as but pawns, and highly expendable ones at that. And once again Hamas seems bent on expending them.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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