August 6, 2014 | The Canadian Jewish News

Lessons for Canada from the Gaza War

While Israel battles Hamas both above and below ground, Canada should evaluate its own counter-terrorism strategies and foreign policy in light of the particular dynamics of this war. 

What follows are five aspects of the current Gaza conflict that highlight how Canadian policies may need to be rethought or, conversely, how Canada has gotten it right. 

• Canada’s decisions to designate Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2002 and cut off direct funding to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas took power in 2006 were well-founded. Over the last decade, Hamas has targeted Israeli civilians with thousands of missiles, used Palestinian civilians as human shields, and allocated its finances and resources to weapons and tunnels rather than schools and hospitals. Indeed, the terror tunnels recently discovered in Gaza consisted of hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete, much of which had been donated by the international community for humanitarian purposes. Accordingly, Canada has correctly directed its aid to specific projects necessary for the emergence of a viable – and democratic – Palestinian state.

• The United States recently blocked the transfer of money from Qatar to Hamas, reflecting the West’s increasing awareness not only that money is the lifeblood of terrorism, but also that this money often comes from foreign governments. The Gaza conflict highlights the need to contend more effectively with such governments. In this respect, Canada is on the right track. The 2012 Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA) allows Canadian victims of terrorist attacks to sue both the local and state sponsors of the perpetrating terrorist group. However, the list of countries that may be sued under this law is short (Iran and Syria) and does not reflect the true number of terror-sponsoring states. Canada must bravely add to the list and enable more victims to seek justice from their wrongdoers. 

• Turkey and Qatar, which provide funding and public support to Hamas, are two examples of a growing phenomenon: states that are ostensible allies of the West, yet deliberately offer significant assistance to the West’s enemies. As a NATO member and world leader in the fight against anti-Semitism, Canada should be watching and cautioning fellow NATO member Turkey in particular. In July, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel’s military offensive in Gaza represented “barbarism [that] has surpassed even Hitler’s.” In a government-affiliated newspaper, an open letter to Turkey’s chief rabbi asserted, “Jews… cause strife and mischief every place they go.” The rabbi was ominously advised to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza in order to prevent violence against Jews in Turkey. 

• As the world’s pre-eminent state sponsor of terror, it’s unsurprising that Iran is playing a pernicious role in the Hamas conflict. Iran has provided missiles, hundreds of millions of dollars, and combat training to Hamas. Ali Larijani, Iran’s parliament speaker, recently shared on television that Hamas “needed the arms manufacture know-how, and we gave it to them.” Canada was justified in designating Iran as a state sponsor of terror under the JVTA, cutting off diplomatic ties with the regime and imposing sanctions under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA). But Canada should list Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity and broaden the grounds for SEMA sanctions to include Iran’s international terrorist activity and domestic human rights violations.  

• The tunnel warfare waged by Hamas has emerged as a strategic threat to Israel, in some ways acting to equalize the less-equipped former with the high-tech latter. Perhaps Canada and its allies should explore technologies and tactics to protect troops in future conflict zones that are likely to see a more expanded and lethal use of tunnel warfare by terrorists. 

The latest conflict between Israel and Hamas should be viewed as a prototype for 21st-century warfare against an evolving terrorist threat. Ottawa should seek to glean from it lessons that will better protect Canadians and Canadian interests at home and abroad. 

Sheryl Saperia is director of policy for Canada at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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