Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Spectator (UK) on the Gaza Crisis

From a leader entitled The Right of Self Defence:
Those who criticise Israel’s actions should consider what Britain would have done if Sinn Fein had come to power in the Irish Republic during the Troubles and rockets had been regularly fired across the border. It is hard to imagine Her Majesty’s Government sitting idly by. Equally, it is hard to imagine that any Israeli government would have acted differently from the way this Kadima-led coalition has. Israeli elections are indeed imminent. But simply to interpret the military response as a cynical electoral ploy to shore up Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, and Ehud Barak, its defence minister, is to see the conflict through lazy Western eyes: from its foundation Israel has believed, correctly, that its very survival is at stake. Its leaders have acted accordingly, often in a fashion that baffles those fortunate enough not to live in nations encircled by foes that call for their extinction.

Hamas is radically different from the old PLO. First, it is Islamist, and second, it is largely dependent on Iran for funding and weapons. (The co-operation between Sunni Hamas and Shiite Iran should give pause to those who dismiss all reports of co-operation between terrorist groups and states across Islam’s confessional divide.) Moderate Arab states feel deep unease about Hamas, as they do about Hezbollah, another Iranian terror proxy force. It is indicative of their concerns that they are soft-pedalling their criticism of Israel — the Arab League meeting has been postponed for four days — as they did in 2006 when it launched a major assault against Hezbollah.

President-elect Obama would be well served to concentrate on the Iranian aspect of the problem, as Dennis Ross, Middle East peace envoy under President Bush Sr and Bill Clinton, and Martin Indyk, an ambassador to Israel under Clinton, are urging him to do. Attempts at direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be futile as long as the rejectionists of Hamas remain dominant in Gaza, pawns in Tehran’s chess game. The Camp David talks that came so close to securing a Middle East settlement at the tail end of the Clinton presidency mean that the outline of an eventual Middle East peace deal is already fairly clear. But no progress can be made until Hamas ceases firing rockets into Israel.

In the meantime, the incoming Obama administration should continue with the Bush administration’s efforts to improve governance in the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. It was, after all, the rank corruption of the PA that allowed Hamas to make its electoral breakthrough in the 2006 elections.

This has been a bleak and bloody week in the history of the Middle East, a horrible throwback to the slaughter of the Six Day War and the conflict of 1973. But nothing should detract from the fact that Israel, like every other sovereign state, has the inalienable right to defend its citizens and territory against attack. No progress can be made until the finger-waggers of the West acknowledge that right.