Israel must win this war

For its own security, Israel must finish the job it started in Gaza

Chicago Sun-Times

Editorials July 23, 2014

Palestinian families who fled their homes from east Khan Younis southern GazStrip ride car their way city Khan Younis Wednesday

Palestinian families who fled their homes from east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip ride on a car in their way to the city of Khan Younis on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to broker a truce in a war that has so far killed hundreds of Palestinians and tens of Israelis. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali) ORG XMIT: GAZ112

For years, Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, imported tons of concrete into Gaza, material that could have been used to build desperately needed schools and houses.

But what did Hamas do? It sold out its own people, doing nothing to better their lives while secretly using all that concrete to reinforce dozens of tunnels from which to wage endless war. Hamas has used the tunnels to infiltrate Israel and hide weapons.

Now, in the continuation of a brutal war that began two weeks ago, the Israeli military is systematically finding and destroying those tunnels, and it is obligated to finish the job. Nothing short of this is likely to end, now and well into the future, a constant raining of Hamas missiles on Israel.

The roots and causes of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict are a moral tangle, one in which Israel is by no means blameless. We believe that Israel, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has shown little courage in trying to reach agreement on a two-state solution. We also believe that an alternative approach gaining traction in Israel — for Israel to unilaterally draw new permanent borders, post troops everywhere and declare the matter over — likely would settle nothing. But in this moment — in the here and now when Israel is confronted by an implacable foe that has rejected a ceasefire — we see only moral clarity: Israel must defend itself. What nation would do otherwise?

As of late Wednesday, more than 650 Palestinians, including more than 100 children, have been killed in the present conflict, and each death is a horror to contemplate. The image, in particular, of four Palestinian children at play being shot down on a Gaza beach will and should haunt Israelis forever. It is impossible to understand how an Israeli gunboat mistook four little boys for Hamas gunmen.

But let’s also understand this: Hamas uses children and all Gaza civilians as human shields. They set up shop with their weaponry among bakers and carpenters and clerks and housewives. They fire off missiles from the heart of intensely populated neighborhoods. Civilian deaths are inevitable in every war, but all the more so when the enemy treats every school, house and hospital as a combat bunker. They store their rockets there.

Hamas continues to fight because apparently it believes it has nothing to lose, even if the people of Gaza have much to lose. Hamas has lost its Syrian and Egyptian sponsors. Its popular support at home is weak. Unemployment in Gaza, debilitated by Israeli and Egyptian partial blockades, is around 50 percent. Hamas is isolated and failing and hoping to regain support by taking on Israel.

All the more reason, then, for Israel to stand firm. If the tunnels are not destroyed, Hamas fighters will crawl through them again. If Israel agrees to link major concessions to a Hamas cease-fire, Hamas will have been rewarded for its violence.

This is no long-term strategy, only a short-term tactic. In the long run, peace will come only when conditions in Gaza improve and the people there believe they have much more to lose and much less to gain by choosing war over peace. In the long run, an Israeli and international effort to build up Gaza’s economy, not impose a blockade, makes far more sense.

But Israel has clashed with Hamas three times in six years. It is entirely reasonable that Israel would now do all within its powers, while taking greater care to minimize civilian casualties, to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities.

If nothing else, Israel hopes to push the next cycle of deadly violence further into the future.

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