President Obama subverts American and humanitarian interests demanding an “immediate, unconditional” ceasefire in Gaza. The cost and risk of future war will increase exponentially unless Israel defeats Hamas decisively.
An Israeli victory entails utterly destroying the extensive tunnel network, which would give Hamas the ability to launch devastating coordinated attacks within Israel. It also entails crippling the capacity of Hamas to launch hundreds of missiles into Israeli territory. With more time, Israel stands a good chance of significantly weakening Hamas politically and militarily.
The United States should eagerly encourage rather than actively impede that result. As Walter Russell Mead observes, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt tacitly hope that Israel “crushes the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Hamas” to strike blow against Islamic radicalism also menacing to their regimes. A premature ceasefire would reinforce the already powerful perception in both countries that the Obama administration neither understands nor cares about their interests. The Saudis and Egyptians still resent President Obama for initially supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government of Morsi and withholding aid to the Syrian rebels. Encouraging an Israeli victory would boost Saudi and Egyptian confidence in the Obama administration’s strategic judgment.
The admirable desire to stop the killing of innocents should not blind Americans to the clear and overwhelming moral and strategic equities of this conflict. Hamas initiated the latest cycle of violence in its perpetual war to eradicate Israel, murdering three Israeli teenagers. Israel had no legitimate choice but to respond robustly to that intolerable provocation. Israel is free, prosperous, and ardently pro-American, whereas Hamas is a repressive, aggressive, virulently anti-American Islamist theocracy aligned with revolutionary Iran and Hezbollah. No military besides the United States armed forces has striven as diligently and successfully to minimize civilian casualties as the Israeli Defense Force. Few entities have displayed such utter disregard for their own population as Hamas, which has routinely used its civilians as human shields. The Washington Post has assailed as “depravity,” Hamas’s strategy of baiting Israelis to kill civilians by placing them in tunnels and other military infrastructure, then blaming Israel for the casualties
A premature ceasefire in Gaza also would defy the hard lessons of history. War is always a tragedy but sometimes a necessity to avert greater moral and geopolitical evil. Typically, the most just and durable peace settlements have occurred when wars have decisive outcomes. Conversely, stopping the fighting too soon often increases the cost and risks of war later. These hard lessons runs counter to the trend in progressive circles to consider forbearance and restraint in the employment of force virtues for their own sake. Democracies fighting against implacable foes must err on the side of decisiveness rather than settle for an ambiguous outcome.
Consider World War I. Although German generals knew they were beaten, it did not appear to the German people that defeat was either inevitable or imminent in 1918 as the German army retreated in good order and German territory remained unscathed. So a Germany unreconciled to defeat tried again. Instead of the war to end all wars that President Wilson promised, World War I became merely a prelude to the most destructive war ever. President Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill avoided the same mistake in World War II, settling for nothing less than the unconditional surrender and total defeat of the Nazi regime. No World War III involving the Germans ensued. Similarly, the Second Iraq War of 2003 occurred partly because of the indecisive outcome for the first Iraq War of 1990 when Saddam construed his survival as a victory.
Like Saddam, Hamas calculates that it wins by surviving. Hamas seeks not only to delegitimize Israel, but to discredit any moderate Palestinian alternative. Hamas’s depraved strategy has already reaped rewards, unleashing a virulent and ugly wave of anti-Semitism in Western Europe and the Islamic World. Pressure has mounted to end Israel’s blockage of Gaza that Hamas’s relentless aggression has vindicated. As Michael Oren has warned, saving Hamas from the consequences of its actions will merely repeat the mistakes of Israel’s previous battles with terrorists in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 and 2012. Israel won tactical victories but suffered strategic defeats because of indecisive outcomes that allowed Hamas and Hezbollah to survive.
Count on Hamas reconstituting its missile force and potentially lethal tunnels swiftly if a cease fire comes too soon. Count on a premature ceasefire emboldening Hamas and other jihadists, confident that international pressure will inevitably prevent Israel effectively from defending itself. A clear decisive Israeli victory constitutes a necessary though not sufficient condition for any semblance of peace in the Middle East. Anything short of that will incite the worst elements of a region teeming with anti-American radicals, rogues, and fanatics.