Analysis from Israel

It’s not every day that an organization feels compelled to insist it’s truly nothing like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Why Hamas leader Khaled Meshal felt this need is a mystery: He’s in no danger from the global anti-Israel crowd, which takes great care to avoid any information that might challenge its preconceived notions, whereas anyone who knows anything about Hamas knows the disclaimer is ridiculous. Still, since he raised the subject, it’s worth examining some of the common fallacies Meshal’s distinction relies on.

ISIS seeks a global caliphate, while Hamas just wants to end the Israeli “occupation.” Actually, Hamas also seeks a global caliphate, as its own interior minister, Fathi Hammad, reiterated on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV last November:

We shall liberate our Al-Aqsa Mosque, and our cities and villages, as a prelude to the establishment of the future Islamic Caliphate … we are at the threshold of a global Islamic civilization era. The fuel and spearhead of this era will be Gaza.”

Indeed, Hamas’s charter explicitly terms the movement a “universal” one and declares that Islam must ultimately regain “all lands conquered by Islam by force” in the past. It’s just that every global caliphate has to start somewhere, and Hamas started with Israel, whereas ISIS chose Syria and Iraq. This might prove that ISIS is shrewder; starting with a weaker enemy enabled it to progress much faster. But it doesn’t change the fact that the goal is the same.

ISIS kills “anyone who gets in their way: Sunnis, Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Iraqis, Syrians,” while Hamas only kills Israelis. Actually, Hamas also kills anyone who gets in its way. That includes Palestinian civilians who dare to protest its decisions or belong to its main rival, Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party; its more memorable murder methods include throwing Fatah members off rooftops. It also includes Egyptians: According to Cairo, Hamas has cooperated with local terrorists on several attacks in Sinai; Egypt even sought to extradite three senior Hamas operatives for involvement in an August 2012 attack that killed 16 Egyptian soldiers.

Granted, ISIS has greater opportunities: It controls a huge territory seized from two collapsed states, Iraq and Syria, whereas Hamas is boxed in by two functioning states, Israel and Egypt. But within the limits of its opportunities, Hamas has been no less enthusiastic about killing “anyone who gets in their way.”

ISIS is exceptionally brutal; witness the snuff film it disseminated after executing journalist James Foley. I particularly like this claim, given that Hamas promptly followed suit with its own snuff films showing the executions of no fewer than 25 fellow Palestinians, including two women. A few weeks earlier, Hamas executed over 30 fellow Palestinians. Of course, Hamas claims all were collaborators with Israel, but it offered no evidence. Thus as the pro-Palestinian Amira Hass delicately put it in Haaretz, these executions primarily appeared to be a warning to the Gazan public “to be careful in anything it says and does” that might upset Hamas, because “The definition of ‘informing’ and ‘collaboration’ can become very murky in times of war.”

But Hamas brutality doesn’t stop at executions. How depraved do you have to be, for instance, to shell a border crossing while your own wounded civilians are passing through it, as Hamas did on Sunday, hitting four Arabs waiting on the Israeli side to drive them to the hospital? Meshal risibly claimed on Saturday that if Hamas had more accurate weapons, it would aim them exclusively at military targets. But Hamas has deployed the extremely accurate smart bombs known as suicide bombers for years, and it used them almost exclusively to kill civilians–from elderly people at a Passover seder to buses full of schoolchildren.

In short, there’s only one significant difference between Hamas and ISIS: Hamas has infinitely less power than ISIS to wreak global havoc, because Israel has managed to keep its capabilities in check. And for that service, needless to say, Israel has reaped nothing but global condemnation.

Originally published in Commentary 

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Trump’s Mideast moves show why Israeli deterrence is crucial

U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest Mideast decisions cast Israeli airstrikes in Syria and (reportedly) Iraq in a different light. Previously, these airstrikes seemed to be aimed solely at preventing Iran from establishing military infrastructure in both countries that could threaten Israel. But it now turns out they were also sending an important deterrent message: If Tehran attacks Israel, Jerusalem will have no qualms about striking back.

The conventional wisdom has been that even if these airstrikes were necessary for Israel’s defense, they posed a real risk of escalation. And obviously, that remains a possibility.

But given Trump’s latest moves, they may actually be making war less likely by letting Tehran know that Jerusalem—unlike, say, Saudi Arabia—won’t sit with folded hands if it suffers a significant Iranian attack like last month’s strike on Saudi oil facilities. The realization that Israel has both the ability and the will to hit back hard might well deter Iran from launching such a strike, even though it now knows that it wouldn’t be risking an American response.

For this reason, much of the rhetoric about how Trump’s recent decisions will affect Israel is overblown, even though the decisions themselves are unequivocally horrible. Strategically, the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria abandons that area to very bad actors (Turkey and/or Iran). It’s also a moral atrocity, as it abandons the Kurds to Turkey’s tender mercies despite their having been America’s most loyal and effective partner against the Islamic State. And it signals the world that Washington won’t protect its allies, thereby reducing the incentive to be an American ally. Trump’s inaction after Iran destroyed half of Saudi Arabia’s oil processing capacity sent a similar message.

But even though Israel is always worse off when America looks weak or unreliable in the Mideast, it’s in a very different position from either Saudi Arabia or the Kurds because it has always insisted on defending itself by itself rather than expecting American soldiers to fight on its behalf.

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