Not since the 1973 Yom Kippur War has Israel been as united behind its government. Likewise, the government itself, which includes rightists, religious parties, the centrist former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, and the left-leaning Yesh Atid party, is more united than at any time since its formation in March 2013. The reason for this unusual degree of unity in a country habitually at odds with itself is not hard to discern. Israeli Jews of all stripes have the sense that, for the first time since the Yom Kippur War, and perhaps since the 1967 Six-Day War, they are facing an enemy that is sworn to their elimination, and failing that, to killing as many of them as possible.
Israelis cannot begin to fathom why so many in the West, including some in the Obama administration, focus on civilian Palestinian deaths, and demand "proportionality," as if Israel's cause would only be legitimate if it lost more of its people. Israelis demand to know what proportionality is meant to connote? That the military should dismantle its remarkably successful Iron Dome system so that more Israeli civilians should be killed? That the incursion into Gaza would only be justifiable if as many Israelis are killed as are Palestinians? Israelis note that proportionality was never a consideration when America and its allies fought other wars, whether in Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan or Iraq (twice).
Israelis acknowledge the tragic circumstances that have led to the deaths of over a thousand Palestinian civilians. But they continually point out that Hamas stocks its weapons in schools, hospitals and mosques, as well as the tunnels, and that it fires its rockets from those locations, as well as from other heavily populated areas. They argue that whereas their own military has warned civilians of impending attacks, Hamas instructs, and perhaps forces, civilians to stay in place. And they wonder why the same observers who relentlessly pummel Israel for attacking civilians seem to overlook the ongoing butchery that Bashar Assad has carried out against his own citizens.
Israelis wonder why Western analysts minimize the threat of Hamas' rabbit warrens of tunnels that enable these terrorists—who are constantly mislabeled with the far less threatening term, "militants"—to avoid Israeli defensive barriers in order to kill soldiers and civilians alike. That the tunnels are nothing less than vehicles for wanton murder is evidenced both by Israeli reports of foiling terrorists who emerged from them in order to kill innocents, and by Hamas' own videos that demonstrate that it is the tunnels that enable them to wreak havoc inside Israeli territory. Israelis ask whether Americans would respond any differently than they have if the tunnels that ferry illegal aliens across the Mexican border were instead used to facilitate the killing of citizens in, say, El Paso.
Hamas has but one declared purpose: to destroy Israel, and indeed, kill as many Jews as possible, regardless of where they might be found. Those who justify its actions, including Hamas' Jewish apologists on the extreme Left, not only support the destruction of the State of Israel, but are no less anti-Semitic than Hamas itself (Jewish self-hatred is a phenomenon that is as old as it is weird).
For all these reasons, Israelis are puzzled, if not shocked, by the Obama administration's ceaseless efforts to obtain a cease-fire, and to promote negotiations with Hamas' most vocal supporters, Qatar and Turkey, without first demanding that Hamas cease its rocket fire. They wonder why Washington is more zealous to pressure them than are the Egyptians, Saudis, Jordanians and several of the Gulf States. They cannot see how an administration that has done little more than engage in fruitless finger pointing at Bashar Assad and, for that matter, the Islamic State in Iraq, should be so determined to prevent Israel from defending its own people. They console themselves by noting that the administration has little, if any, credibility in the Middle East; so they simply ignore John Kerry and proceed with their operations.
It is, however, one thing to support Israel's legitimate right to defend itself until Hamas is prepared to accept its existence, to halt its rocket attacks, to seal its tunnels and to accept long-standing agreements that began with Oslo. It is quite another to ignore the legitimate claims of Palestinians to a country of their own, or the damage that the ongoing settlement building is doing to any prospects for such a Palestinian state to come into being. Many Israelis continue to believe that only a two-state solution offers them any hope of a future that is not constantly interrupted by war. Many Americans and others in the West share that belief. The Gaza operation will eventually come to an end, but the plight of the Palestinians will not. Israelis are right to support their government's efforts to establish quiet borders with its neighbors. Once a cease-fire takes place, they should ramp up the pressure on that government to ensure peace by halting the construction of new settlements and creating a real opportunity for Palestinians to have borders of their own.
Dov S. Zakheim served as the undersecretary of defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Defense from 2001–2004 and as the deputy undersecretary of defense (planning and resources) from 1985-1987. He also served as DoD's civilian coordinator for Afghan reconstruction from 2002–2004. He is a member of The National Interest's advisory council.
Image: Israeli Air Force Flickr