There have been times when apportioning blame for violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a matter of debate. When it comes to Thursdays rocket attacks on Tel Aviv by the militant Palestinian group Hamas, however, there is no ambiguity. Hamas is the aggressor.
Tel Aviv is Israels largest city and its commercial center. The city also hosts the Defense Ministry, but the rockets werent aimed there. In fact, they werent aimed at all. They were flung toward Tel Aviv from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, in the same way militants periodically shoot rockets into southern Israeli towns near the Gaza border.
The strike was retaliation for Israeli air raids on Gaza that killed the Hamas security chief, Ahmed al-Jabari. Yet that attack came in response to more than 100 attacks on southern Israel that militants launched from Gaza this month.
Hamas had recently begun to participate again in such strikes. After taking over limited self-rule of Gaza in 2007, Hamas largely refrained from attacking Israel. The group focused instead on local politics, leaving harassing Israel to smaller, more radical groups.
Hamas restraint raised cautious hopes that the group was mellowing and might even come to accept peaceful coexistence with Israel, just as the Palestine Liberation Organization did. This hope proved illusory – as did the hope that regional powers would serve to moderate Hamas. In October, the emir of relatively peaceable Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, became the first head of state to visit Gaza since Hamas took control. The emir pledged $400 million in support, which would more than double the territorys foreign aid. Two weeks after his visit, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has significantly downgraded his countrys relations with Israel, said he planned to visit Gaza.
Its true that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has pledged to honor his countrys 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Its true, too, that he has tussled with Hamas over the groups Sinai tunnels, which have been conduits to violence and instability. Nevertheless, after Israels airstrikes, Morsi condemned what he called wanton aggression, withdrew his ambassador to Israel and ordered his prime minister to Gaza on a solidarity mission. He was silent on the rocket attacks on southern Israel that triggered Israels action.
Now, with the revived rocket attacks, Hamas has opened a new and deadly chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No country could tolerate such a threat and fulfill its most basic duty to protect its citizens.
Of course, Hamas and its supporters believe nothing Israel does is legitimate because they believe Israel itself is illegitimate. What they dont understand is that this view is woefully outdated and that the creation of a Palestinian state will require Israels acquiescence, something that is unlikely to happen under pressure of rocket fire.
If Al Thani, Erdogan, Morsi and the regions other leaders wanted to help Hamas, they would get the group to see that reality – rather than flirting with poisonous militancy.