Beyond the hardships of the war, the achievements and the pains—in the skies of Gaza, on the streets of Lod, and on the roads of the Galilee and the Negev—its significance can already be appreciated within a broader context.
Although it was forced on Israel and it would have been better had it not erupted, since it has done so nonetheless, Israel is expected to make lemonade out of these lemons.
In recent years, Hamas has seriously provoked Israel, knowing that it is focused on fighting in the northern arena with Iran and its emissaries in Syria and Lebanon. Israel has restrained itself and even developed illusions of long-term arrangements, under the belief that Yahya Sinwar wants to focus on improving the living conditions of the Gazans.
But the deep essence of Hamas dictates an inevitable confrontation. In the Gazan culture of the Muslim Brotherhood, there is almost no constructive content of building a society and a nation. The struggle to uproot the Jews is the meaning of life. Gazan society does not offer its children a better future in terms of quality of life, but rather a morbid satisfaction from killing Jews and destroying their country, derived from a tribal and pathological version of “honor.”
Gaza has no “solution.” Improving its living conditions is not a substitute for violent struggle. Israeli occupation and control, which will indeed facilitate the neutralization of the violent threat, are undesirable.
What is left is damage control: severe, repeated harm to Hamas’s military power, and exacting a high and deterring price for its aggression. Following this, it is desirable to adopt a policy of continuous prevention from now on. The current confrontation would have come anyway; Israel tried to avoid it, until it broke out.
And it’s good that it came now. The fear was that in the event of a possible war with Iran and its emissaries, Hamas would open another front. In such a war, most of Israel’s resources would be mobilized to face the main threat; there would be no satisfactory solution for Gaza; and Hamas would be striking its blows on Israel and surviving without much damage.
Under such conditions, Hamas would have many tools left and would be highly motivated to conduct the next round of its choosing. But with the outbreak of the conflict now, Israel has been given the opportunity to direct all its resources against Hamas—to strike, eliminate some of its commanders and centers of knowledge, fatally damage its military capabilities and inflict severe damage on its supporters.
If and when Hamas wants to join the war between Israel and its enemies in the north, its contribution will be marginal—and its suffering will be unbearable.
Hamas went to war to take control of the Palestinian public in the West Bank and Israel after Abbas canceled the elections that were supposed to allow for this outcome through the ballot box. It had some temporary and limited gains with heating up the West Bank and bringing Israeli Arabs under its banner, but its defeat in Gaza is expected to cool its enthusiasm. West Bank leaders will be forced to restrain it, for fear of its rule and the deterioration of living conditions to the level of those in Gaza.
The Arab citizens of Israel will soon realize the cost of active identification with Hamas. The widespread, violent, pogrom-like rampage they perpetrated is unfortunate and harmful. It would have been better if avoided completely, or at least reduced to only a few negative elements on the margins. But, since it broke out, one should also recognize its positive side effects, as happened in the second intifada.
Following the pains and damages of that campaign, mainstream Israeli society realized that the Palestinian national movement was not a reliable partner in a historic compromise, and became extremely suspicious of normalizing relations between the two peoples, on the justified assumption that any Israeli concession would be used to undermine the Jewish state.
This time, the Jewish public will learn the lessons of the violent rampage, the manifestations of hostility and the assassination ethos that go with it among tens of thousands of Arab Israelis, in dozens of cities throughout the country. The severity of the phenomenon focuses on the overwhelming majority refraining from curbing the hostile and violent elements, and fearing to dissociate themselves from the message they are sending to the Jews.
Dozens of their spokespeople, from Knesset members to journalists and participants in the riots, who addressed the Jewish public, flat out lied, made poor excuses and did not accept responsibility, with a particularly repulsive combination of aggression and whining. Many were not even willing to settle for the deliberately false and distorted symmetry that the journalists offered them regarding “extremists on both sides.”
Such a determination would be plausible had Arab society and its spokespeople rebelled against the many thousands of rioters and haters among them, similar to the absolute renunciation of the vast majority of the Jewish public and almost all its spokespeople from the handful of vandals on the margins of society, who went out to riot against Arabs in Bat Yam, Tiberias and other places.
It is a mistake to focus on the Arab rioters who raged in Lod, Ramle and Akko, attacked their Jewish neighbors, burned and looted their property, and endangered lives. Much worse are the hundreds of serious incidents all over the country, some of them substantial, where riled-up young Arabs chanted, among other things, Khyber, Khyber Ya-Yehud, Jaish Muhammad Sawf Ya’ud (“Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.”)
During these protests, they actually laid siege to Arad, threatened Jews in dozens of centers in the Galilee and the Negev and tried to lynch an IDF soldier in Jaffa. These are blatant manifestations of joining the enemy during war. This is terrorism in the original sense of the term: imposing terror on tens of thousands of Jews, who fear for their lives, well-being and property.
The Jewish public got a reminder of the deep nature of the national struggle at home. Although most Arabs want to reject, and perhaps even repress, this dimension and focus on civil integration, they choose their political and social leadership based on their loyalty to delegitimizing the Jewish state in its essence and identifying with its various enemies and adversaries.
It turned out that the Arab public is not trying to restrain the tens of thousands within it who express throughout the country a concept of struggle against Jews that promises their neighbors—by using Molotov cocktails, rocks and mass hostilities—to recreate in Israel the tragic fate of the Jewish tribe in Khaybar in the seventh century.
But until the “army of Muhammad” comes to finish the job, they wish to contribute their share to the heroic struggle against the Jews and their state. The Jewish public also understands that “coexistence” can prevail as long as Arab radicals do not (accidentally) smell weakness and sloppiness. Good to know.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.