The Real World: Hamas, Qassams & Conflict

Date: 03-14-2008 | Category: Articles, Middle East

By Ariel Cohen

An incessant and intensifying barrage of Qassam and Katyusha rockets recently forcedIsrael to undertake the largest ground operation in Gaza since the 2005 pullout. The use of Iranian-manufactured, Russian-designed BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket systems by Hamas put the Israeli city of Ashkelon, with its power station and refinery, as well as its suburbs, in firing range. Quadrupling the number of Israelis in danger of rocket fire may also place a stark choice before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his center-left coalition: stay under fire and look even weaker than before, or launch a massive land operation into Gaza, take casualties, and suffer more international condemnation. Much has been written by analysts about how the low-tech Qassams have changed the strategic balance on the ground. Qassams are easy to manufacture: some 8,000 of them have been produced in the garages and back yards of Gaza since 2001. Their use is growing exponentially, turning a nuisance into an existential threat. The rockets may be inaccurate, but for the first time, they are working to achieve the depopulation of Israeli areas within the 1967 borders. Up to one-third of the citizens of Sderot have left. Sderot is a working class town less than two kilometers from the Gaza border, predominantly populated by Jews from Arab lands. Their flight from the rockets encourages the hope of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Hamas and Hezbollah protégés that Israel can be, in their words, "wiped off the face of the Earth." And there you have it. As far as Hamas and its Iranian sponsors are concerned, the conflict is not – never really was – about borders. It is about the ability of non-Muslims and non-Arabs to have their own state in the midst of the Muslim ocean. Ahmadinejad, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Ismail Haniyeh are tapping into a sentiment that runs deep – a conviction that denies Israel the right to exist. According to Hamas’s charter, inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood’s teachings, as well as Iranian preaching, there should be no Israel – not within the 1967 borders, not within the 1948 armistice lines, and not according to the U.N. resolution of November 1947. After all, what are all these man-made lines, when voices in their heads tell Messrs Ahmadinejad et al directly, what should and shouldn’t be? If Qassams and Katyushas do the trick, so be it, says Hamas. If not, there are other means of warfare, from propaganda (jihad of the pen) to suicide bombers to nuclear-armed missiles. Iran, a country with a 3,000-year imperial tradition, takes its time putting the pieces into place. First, it was Hezbollah. Today, it is Hamas in Gaza. And tomorrow? In a revealing publication in the Sunday Times of London, a Hamas leader revealed a program in which 150 Hamas members flew to Teheran from Damascus to undergo terrorism warfare training. "They come home with more abilities than we need, such as high-tech capabilities, knowledge about land mines and rockets, sniping, and fighting tactics like the ones used by Hezbollah, when they were able to come out of tunnels from behinds the Israelis and attack them successfully." Six hundred more were trained by the Iranians in Syria. What the Hamas commander did not reveal, and what has been the strategy of Hamas since the early 1990s, is the plan to topple the Fatah-dominated administration in theWest Bank. Then, said the late Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi to a confidant, Hamas will turn east, to topple the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. Hamas will try to create a Palestinian dominated state from Iraq’s Western desert to the Mediterranean (Gaza), and only then turn on Israel. A Hamastan in the West Bank, replete with rockets shooting day after day at Tel Aviv, Petach Tikva, Ra’anana, and Ben Gurion airport, is likely to sap Israeli power and cause many to leave the country. Yet, the United States, Israel’s principal ally, the European governments, the United Nations, and the moderate Arab countries refuse to join or even support Israel in the struggle against the Iranian and Saudi Arabia-funded and trained terror statelet. Not a single U.N. resolution has been passed condemning the shelling of pre-1967Israel. The Security Council failed even to denounce the brutal murder of eight Jewish teenage seminary students by a Palestinian gunman, who was celebrated as a hero by militant crowds in Gaza and the West Bank. This approach is myopic. First, it will signal to Israel that when its existence is on the line, it can expect no support from the international community. Neither the Arabs nor the Americans or Europeans appear to be either willing to or capable of effectively policingGaza, leaving the job to Israelis. Desperate people are capable of desperate action, especially when cornered. If the world does not put pressure on Hamas to disarm, recognize Israel, and enter negotiations now, many more Jews and Palestinian Arabs could die. Even more significant is the broader lesson of Hamas and Hezbollah to other Islamist terrorist organizations. The lesson is that not only does suicide terror pay off, but so does the creation of hybrid armies in areas with no effective state control. If not suppressed, al-Qaida in Iraq could have taken this route, and so could Iraq’s radical Shiite militias. In the future, such 21st century armies, if created by al-Qaida and its clones, could bring down moderate or secular Arab regimes, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, or even the Baathist Syria. The strategic imperative to sort out the situation with Hamas and its state sponsors, Syria and Iran, stems not only from concerns about Israel’s security, but from the clear and present danger, that if not stopped, terrorist organizations can morph into terror armies, fundamentally changing the landscape of the Middle East. -- Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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