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Why Israel fights - drawing the line

By Yossi Klein Halevi - posted Friday, 28 July 2006

Three times in the last century, the Jewish people has found itself on the front line against totalitarian ideologies with aspirations to rule the world, and which defined the Jewish people as its primary obstacle in fulfilling that goal.

For Nazism, the Jew was not only the source of racial impurity but inventor of conscience, crippling humanity's survival instincts in an amoral world. For Soviet communism, the Jew was the source of capitalism, and Zionism the front line of imperialism. And now, for fundamentalist Islam, the Jew is the satanic enemy, and the Jewish state an abomination against God that must be destroyed.

Though Israeli officials are calling the conflict with Hezbollah and Hamas an “operation”, it is, in fact, a war. Ultimately, the war will transcend its Iranian proxies and engage Iran itself. One crucial result must be the destruction of Iran's nuclear capability, which would provide the religious genocidalists with the ability to turn theology into practice.


Imagine Israel confronting a Hezbollah backed by a nuclear Iran. Would we be able to defend our northern border knowing that an attack on Hezbollah could provoke an Iranian nuclear attack against Tel Aviv?

That prospect is not inconceivable: Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes that the Muslim messianic age is about to be inaugurated by the destruction of Israel. Certainly Israel has the capacity to deliver an overwhelming second strike. But the balance of terror that worked during the cold war against the Soviet Union may fail against an enemy that welcomes death as a prelude to eternal life. A nuclear Iran could be the ultimate suicide bomber.

The war of the missiles in Lebanon and in Gaza is actually the second stage of the war that began six years ago. Erroneously, self-defeatingly, Israelis accepted the Palestinian terminology, and called the wave of Islamist suicide bombings that started in September 2000 “the second intifada”. Unlike the intifada of the late 1980s, however, which united Palestinian Christians and Muslims against the occupation, the war that began in 2000 has been led by Islamists, after Israel tried to end the occupation.

Not coincidentally, there have been no Christian suicide bombers. The Palestinian cause had shifted from national struggle to jihad.

Nevertheless, some insist on distinguishing between Hezbollah and Hamas. While Hezbollah is an operational extension of the Shia Iranian revolution, Hamas, they argue, represents the national aspirations of the Palestinian people. In fact, Hamas represents the undoing of Palestinian national aspirations. For Hamas, a Palestinian state is merely a means to an end: the resurrection of the medieval Caliphate and the transformation of the Middle East into a single Islamist state. The rise of Hamas, then, has completed the process, which began with the suicide bombings, of Islamising the conflict.

The so-called second intifada has destroyed the achievement of the first intifada, which convinced a majority of Israelis that former Prime Minister Golda Meir had been wrong to insist there was no Palestinian people and that a distinct Palestinian identity had indeed emerged. In rejecting mere nationalism, Hamas is returning the Palestinians to their pre-national consciousness, when Palestinians were part of an amorphous Arab or Muslim identity. The first casualty of the jihad, then, has been a viable Palestinian national identity, and, with it, the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.


What unites Shia Hezbollah and Sunni Hamas is the theology of genocide. Both organisations preach that the Holocaust never happened, even as they actively plan the next one. According to the Hamas Covenant, every ill in the world, from the French Revolution to the two world wars, was provoked by the Jews. For its part, Hezbollah's Al Manar TV station spread the story that the Mossad was behind September 11 and warned 4,000 Jews who worked in the Twin Towers to stay home that day - a calumny that was accepted, according to polls, by majorities throughout the Muslim world.

The grievance of the Islamists isn't only that they were conquered and occupied but that they have failed, so far, to conquer and occupy. Like Hezbollah, Hamas won't “moderate” with the responsibility of power. To believe otherwise is to underestimate the power of religion. For Hamas is not a political movement but a faith. And for Hamas to abandon its goal of Israel's destruction is to commit heresy against the core of that faith. Religious change, even among fundamentalists, is surely possible; but it is a process measured not in months but in decades, or centuries.

In targeting Lebanon and Gaza, Israel is sending a simultaneous message: it is time for the Arab world to take responsibility for its actions. What Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora share is a helplessness - to some extent self-inflicted - against the terrorists in their midst.

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First published at TNR Online on July 26 2006.       

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About the Author

Yossi Klein Halevi is a foreign correspondent for The New Republic and senior fellow of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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