October 10, 2023 | The Washington Times

A 21st century pogrom

The final failure of Israel’s land-for-peace experiment
October 10, 2023 | The Washington Times

A 21st century pogrom

The final failure of Israel’s land-for-peace experiment

By now, you know the basics: More than a thousand Hamas terrorists invaded Israel from Gaza. They slaughtered farmers on their kibbutzim, massacred teenagers attending an outdoor concert, desecrated the bodies of raped and murdered women, and stole children from their homes.

In this 21st century pogrom – a 19th century term for assaults on Jewish communities in eastern Europe – more than 800 Israelis have been killed, more than 2,000 wounded, and dozens taken hostage.

Not just coincidentally, this attack came on the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, launched by Egypt and Syria. That attack also took Israelis by surprise – though they had been warned – and almost succeeded in annihilating the tiny Jewish state which is the last surviving and thriving Jewish community in the Middle East.

There’s a distinction I want to call to your attention. Vladimir Putin is waging a war to force Ukrainians to accept Kremlin rule. Xi Jinping is threatening to launch a war to force Taiwanese to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party.

But Hamas doesn’t want Israelis to obey. Hamas wants Israelis to die. And let’s be clear: It’s not all Israelis they plan to exterminate. It’s Jews.

“Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious,” reads the Hamas Charter. “It needs all sincere efforts…until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”

Standing behind Hamas is the Islamic Republic of Iran which has long both threatened and incited genocide against Israelis. Iran’s rulers provide funds, weapons, and training not only to Hamas but also to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and a long list of other terrorist groups.

On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Iranian security officials helped plan Hamas’s Saturday surprise attack and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday.” The Journal’s sources include senior members of both Hamas and Hezbollah.

Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, has been praising the attacks, vowing that the “Zionist regime will be eradicated at the hands of the Palestinian people and the Resistance forces throughout the region.”

Mr. Khamenei’s acolytes routinely chant “Death to Israel!” and, of course, “Death to America!”

His thugs routinely murder Iran’s young women for such “crimes” as covering their hair “incorrectly.”

And Tehran is now supplying drones and other weapons to Mr. Putin to help him slaughter Ukrainians.

How were Israelis blindsided? Don’t Israel’s intelligence agencies know everything that happens both in Gaza and Tehran? And aren’t the Israel Defense Forces prepared for any eventuality?

It appears Hamas duped Israelis into believing it was eager to improve the Gazan economy, and so was shifting its terrorist activities to the West Bank, which is governed by Fatah, Hamas’s rival.

Israelis also reassured themselves that their Iron Dome would blast Hamas missiles out of the sky, while their high-tech devices prevented Hamas from digging tunnels into Israel.

But Hamas used low-tech explosives and bulldozers to break through the border fence. And the weapons they used to mow Israelis down were not sophisticated. Just lethal.

Another contributing factor: For months Israelis have been bitterly quarreling among themselves over how much power should be allotted to the parliament, or Knesset, and how much to Israel’s Supreme Court.

When I visited Israel in August, it was apparent that both sides were obsessing over this controversy, and paying insufficient attention to what should have been their main mission: defending their nation.

“Given the threats they face from Tehran and its proxies,” I wrote, “Israelis would be well-advised to make whatever compromises are necessary to accomplish this mission – even imperfectly – and sooner rather than later.”

I take no pride in having been prescient.

Hezbollah, Tehran’s foreign legion, dominates Lebanon, and has installed thousands of missiles aiming at Israeli targets. Hezbollah has not opened a second front. But that could change at any moment.

In Syria, Iraq, and Yemen there also are Tehran-backed Shia militias eager to provide support for an annihilationist war against Israel.

Iran’s rulers, their proxies, clients, supporters, and sympathizers like to say they’re “resisting” Israeli occupation. But, of course, Gaza is not occupied.

In the defensive war of 1967 war, Israelis seized Gaza from Egypt – which had itself conquered the territory by military force during Israel’s War of Independence. Egypt doesn’t want it back.

In 2005, in a land-for-peace experiment, Israelis withdrew from Gaza – every farmer, every soldier, every synagogue, every grave.

At that point, Gaza became, de facto, a Palestinian state, one Hamas began ruling after winning a two-year civil war against Fatah.

In 2008, Hamas started firing rockets at Israeli targets near Gaza.

On days when Hamas is not attacking, Israel provides Gaza with electricity. Medicine and other supplies are trucked into Gaza from Israel. Thousands of Gazans have been permitted to work in Israel at salaries far above what they could command at home.

Israelis have attempted to prevent Hamas from importing weapons. This, Israel’s enemies allege, is a blockade! Last weekend’s attack illustrates how successful that blockade has been. 

What comes next? Israel’s first order of business is to clear southern Israel of all terrorists. Then, expect Israelis to destroy Hamas’s military capabilities as quickly as possible, saving as many hostages as possible.

Will Hamas’s rule in Gaza also be terminated? Hard to say. As noted, Israelis don’t occupy Gaza and don’t want to.

The strategic perspective is even more complex. Israelis know that Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and many of their other sworn enemies are pawns of a king whose head rests too easily in Tehran. This existential threat must be addressed sooner or later.

A lesson from three centuries of pogroms: Sometimes, later can be too late.

Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times. Follow him on X @CliffordDMay. FDD is a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jihadism