In the Mideast, things are often different from what they seem to be, and now there is an ever-so-faint glimmer of hope in the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza.
We’ve seen this scenario before: Israel attacks the radical, extremist Islamic group Hamas for using Gaza as a launchpad to attack, this time with hundreds of missiles and through a network of tunnels dug into Israel territory. The Israeli reaction, brutal but justified, in the long run only adds to the legacy of hate and revenge not only among the Palestinians of Gaza but also the Arab world.
But war can make strange bedfellows. In this instance, Israel’s supporters—tacit, not overt—are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and, believe it or not, the Palestinian Authority. These Arab states are quietly rooting on Israel this time, not because they have suddenly become Zionist, but because they see Hamas as more of a threat to their well-being than Israel.
Remember that Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—the very group that Egyptian generals kicked out of the government last year. The Brotherhood allowed missiles and weapons to pour through Egypt’s border into Gaza. The Egyptian military has closed it or at least has made it more difficult to smuggle weapons.
And recall, too, that the Palestinian Authority, which lost control of Gaza in a war with Hamas, more recently reached agreement for a unity government with Hamas. Some viewed the action as a further radicalization of the Palestinian Authority, or a pathetic attempt to regain relevance. But from a different perspective it also illustrates Hamas’ inability to govern Gaza and improve the lives of its residents. The Palestinian Authority has its own problems with corruption and incompetence, but it could emerge from this war with more authority. Hamas, among other disastrous decisions, chose to spend resources on missiles and tunnels and to start this war to take attention off its governing failures.
The nations that now support Hamas are relatively small, but oil- and gas-rich Qatar and Turkey have had a working relationship with Israel. (But that is another story.)
There is a chance, yes, slim, but still possible, that when the airstrikes and ground assaults finally stop, a coalition of more moderate Arab states working with the Palestinian Authority might find a way to restart a peace process.
Of course, the US govern–ment—in the form of Secretary of State John Kerry—must realize that its initial attempt at an early ceasefire, before Israel has had a chance to destroy the tunnels, played into the hands of Hamas and ignored the more moderate states that want to see Hamas weakened, if not eliminated. David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, had it right when he said this week that Kerry’s actions smacked of incompetence, at best.
This is all taking place in a context of instability in the Mideast. In Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt, Sunnis are fighting Sunnis, Shia are fighting Sunnis, Sunnis are fighting Shia, and Kurds are trying to carve out their own state, and Iran has not given up its program to create a nuclear weapon.
For all the criticism against Israel and its brutal tactics, the reality is that no nation can sit by while an enemy dedicated to its destruction lobs missiles into its territory and sends terrorists through tunnels to kill its people. But the critical question is this: When the shooting stops, can anything good come out of this war, or will we be left with another ineffective cease-fire?
James M. Klurfeld, a former Newsday editorial page editor, is visiting professor of journalism at Stony Brook University in New York. He wrote this for Newsday.