CLOCK IS TICKING IN ISRAEL

Hamas countdown has begun

Hamas will soon pay price for traditional Arab talent for misjudgment

Yigal Walt
Published: 03.07.08, 11:54 / Israel Opinion

Terrorism is a strange business. Terror groups usually fight stronger armies, and must therefore walk a fine line. As long as they stick to persistent low-intensity warfare, they can deliver painful blows without prompting an overwhelming response. Yet ironically, attacks that are “overly successful” can be a terrorist’s worst enemy.

A nation that sustains an unusually difficult blow is willing to adopt measures that it normally would not. We saw this with America’s harsh response to the September 11 attacks, and on a smaller scale in Israel’s response to the wave of suicide bombings in March 2002.

For many years, Palestinian terror groups heeded this lesson. Their success was moderate, yet repeated attacks eroded Israel’s sense of security over the years. Yet fortunately for Israel, here too the Palestinians showed that their reputation as the world’s worst decision-makers was well deserved. Their unique talent for misjudging reality, perhaps the most blatant of all Palestinian qualities, came back to haunt them again.

The suicide terror wave of 2002 culminated in the bloody Passover attack at a Netanya hotel that killed 30 people. Yet the customary Palestinian festivities in the wake of the “grand operation” were short lived. The shocking attack prompted Israel to launch operation Defensive Shield, which shattered the West Bank’s terror infrastructure. In subsequent years, Israel’s terror death toll dropped rapidly, from a peak of close to 450 victims to less than 15 last year. No less significantly, Israel’s tough response shattered Fatah, the strongest of all Palestinian organizations, which has not recovered since.

Now, Hamas is moving closer to making the same mistake.

The fundamentalist Islamic organization is known as a pragmatic group, yet it too is apparently not immune to the Palestinian “I-want-more” syndrome. Emboldened by repeated success in recent years, most notably its elections victory and violent Gaza coup, Hamas just couldn’t hold back.

Step closer to the abyss

For seven years, rockets have been raining on Sderot, gradually eating away at residents’ resolve, but causing a low casualty toll that kept Israel from responding in kind. Yet Hamas was apparently dissatisfied with the slow progress, smuggling in longer range missiles, and recently started targeting a much larger city, Ashkelon. That was a major mistake.

Now that 250,000 Israelis are in rocket range, the threat has taken on increasingly strategic dimensions. Israel simply cannot live with such situation over time. Operation “Warn Winter,” which claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives in a matter of days, was a first, relatively humble warning shot. Thursday’s massacre in Jerusalem, regardless of who committed it, was another step that brings Palestinians closer to the abyss, as the anger it aroused brings Israel a step closer to taking the gloves off.

Despite their claims to be thoroughly familiar with Israeli realities, our Arab enemies have failed time and again in gauging Israel’s mood. Hizbullah leader Nasrallah, previously a self-proclaimed “Israel expert,” has already admitted that he completely misjudged Israel’s response to the abduction of its soldiers. Similarly, Hamas is now walking down the same path.

The undercurrents may not be readily apparent, but they are there, and they are getting stronger with each passing day. Israelis are quickly approaching the “critical mass” that would prompt an all-out response. Hamas, which is busy declaring victories, organizing triumphant parades, and handing out sweets in the streets of Gaza, may also be forgetting that at the end of the day it is quite isolated internationally. Even most of its Arab brethren don’t care too much about its fate these days.

On top of that we should count an army hungry to prove that its performance in Lebanon was merely an aberration. This time around, troops have been preparing for months. Unfortunately for Hamas, it is about to pay the price for Israel’s failure in Lebanon. A moment before it hits the abyss, will Hamas be able to regain its composure? Past experience shows that the likelihood of that is slim.

Hamas, beyond being a terror group, is a popular movement that is deeply entrenched within Palestinian society. As such, it cannot be fully eliminated or destroyed. Yet it can be brought to its knees and significantly weakened; the countdown to that has begun.

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: