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Who benefits?

And so Israel looks like it is moving closer and closer to a full-scale retaliation in the Gaza Strip, in response to the escalating assault of Katyusha rockets launched by Hamas at souther Israeli towns.   The IDF has already launched deadly raids into the Strip, killing close to twenty Palestinians. 

 The Israeli reaction here is inevitable, and, in the view of this author, justifiable.  No one going through constant rocket attacks should be expected to just sit there and take it.  War is never a decent or good thing, and it should never be rushed into or taken lightly, but eventually Israel has to defend itself.  It moved out of the Gaza Strip, the Gazans had an election, and the rockets still rain.  Regardless of what one thinks about the morality of a response, Israel has the legal right to defend itself (enough of my opinion; dissent is welcomed in the comments). 

(Side note: For a good discussion of this, both rational and inflamed {and thus an accurate picture}, check out the comments on Marty Peretz’ New Republicblog.  Marty himself is a little over-the-top, but some of the comments are excellent). 

Now to the meat of this post: why, knowing exactly how Israel would respond, did Hamas step up their assault?  After all, there is zero way Hamas could defeat a full-scale military invasion.  If Israel dropped all morality, it could roll over Gaza in a matter of hours (that Israel will not do that, of course, plays into Hamas’ considerations). 

It is because of the cruel realities of governance.   Ayatollah Khomeini famously said something along the lines of “the revolution is about Islam, not determining the price of melons!”  (I found several different versions of this quote, but they were all just variations on a theme.)   Meaning, of course, that he wasn't interested in the nitty-gritty of a functioning society, but on his grand dream.   Luckily for him, Iran had a long history and a free marketplace.

 Not so in Gaza: years of occupation and Arafat's incompetence left the Strip a miserable place to be, without any of the basics of governance.  Fatah proved that it couldn't handle it, and the only other group there was Hamas.  Hamas won the elction, focusing much of its campaign rhetoric not on who was going to drive whom into which sea, but on erasing corruption and cleaning up the trash. 

Sounds good, right?  Hezbollah did much the same thing in Lebanon- limiting the militant talk while discussing civil society.   There discussion of how, in the absence of Israeli occupation, Hezbollah could evolve from a revolutionary militia to a normal political party (normal for the region, of course).  

This didn't happen.  Hezbollah refused to give up its guns, and, when its Syrian backers were forced to scale back following the Hariri murder (for which they still might be held responsible), Hezbollah was losing support as well as its rasion d’etre.  So they launched raids into Israel's north, and Israel retaliated.  It is worth noting that many Lebanese approved of this, before Israel disastrously went to Beirut.    Hezbollah found its voice again, and regained popularity.

Hamas realizes this.  Like Hezbollah, they were born for one reason only- to fight against Israel.   They can do no other.   So, as the reality of political power sets in, and people want more than rallies and fire, rhetoric and blood, a group can do one of two things: actually try to give people what they want (peace, jobs, stability, food) or, paradoxically, bring more blood and fire in, to rally around a common enemy.

Hamas is constitutionally unable to do the former.  They can only make trouble.  They are making a desperate gamble here- bring the wrath of Israel down upon them to try to rally support (picture of dead children always do this) and reestablish their mojo.  It will probably work; it almost always does.   It is tragic and foolhardy and immoral, but it is their only political knowledge.

It is a myth for fools that Hamas or Hezbollah can moderate themselves.  There might be people in the groups who can, but as soon as they modify themselves they cease to exist.  Power affects everyone the same way. For Hamas,  adaptation means extinction.   Fighting just means more bodies.   That is hardly a choice at all.



Brian O'Neill

Brian O'Neill is a freelance writer currently based out of Chicago. He has lived in Egypt and in Yemen, and worked as a writer and editor for the Yemen Observer publishing company. He currently is an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.