- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

What began 15 days ago as an effort to free Cpl. Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old Israel Defense Forces soldier kidnapped by terrorists who attacked an Israeli base inside Israel, has been transformed into something much larger. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s center-left government has embarked upon a daring campaign to: 1) uproot the Palestinian terror networks that have embedded themselves in Gaza and the West Bank, with the active support of Iran and Syria; and 2) destabilize what Israel accurately terms a terrorist government run by Hamas, which has made Gaza a haven for jihadists much as Afghanistan was under Taliban rule.

The effort to uproot terror bases is in essence a reprise of Operation Defensive Shield, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s remarkably successful campaign four years ago that crippled West Bank terror cells that had carried out a grisly series if suicide bombings in Israel, capped by the March 27, 2002, Hamas bombing of a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. Thirty persons were killed in that bombing. The campaign by Mr. Olmert is in part meant to deal with the consequences that followed Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last summer, such as the complete collapse of security on the Gaza/Egypt border, which permitted terrorists and weapons to cross unimpeded. Given Israel’s desire not to reoccupy Gaza permanently, it must re-examine establishing something approximating a zero-tolerance policy to deal with terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza. The United States would not tolerate terrorists firing rockets across the Mexican border at El Paso or San Diego, and Israel cannot and should not accept any rocket firings at Sderot and Ashkelon.

The current Israeli military operation comes at a time of enormous cultural and political change within Israel. Since the Jewish state’s victory in the 1967 war, its politics have been dominated by men with military backgrounds. Prime ministers of various ideological hue — ranging from Mr. Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, elected as leaders of the Likud Party, to Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin from Labor — had extensive military careers. Messrs. Sharon, Barak and Rabin were army generals before becoming prime minister. The current Israeli government marks a sharp departure: Mr. Olmert was a lawyer and politician. Amir Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party and current defense minister, is a labor-union leader who earlier this year campaigned almost exclusively on a platform of left-wing economic populism. He avoided taking positions on security issues. Mr. Peretz, who oversees the military campaign in Gaza, succeeded Gen. Shaul Mofaz, who had previously served as Israel Defense Force chief of staff.

Far from a liability, the civilian backgrounds of Israel’s current political leaders are a source of pride for many in the current Israeli government, who see it as evidence that the country is maturing — that Israelis feel strong and secure enough to be governed by civilians, just as in the United States and other democracies of the West. In the wake of Israel’s March 28 election, officials exuded optimism that they would win support from Europe and build on Mr. Sharon’s progress in ending Israel’s international isolation — particularly with Mr. Olmert’s plans to remove Jewish settlements east of Israel’s West Bank security fence, contrasted with the bellicosity of Tehran, Damascus and the Hamas-ruled Palestinian Authority.

For now, however, much of this will have to be put on hold, because the usual reality of the Middle East has intruded. The Palestinians continue to refuse to permit their Jewish neighbors to live in peace. Israel has made remarkable strides over its 58 years of wartime existence, but the Palestinian reality is dramatically different. Ever since the ascendancy of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti during the 1920s (who would later become a collaborator with Hitler’s Final Solution), the Palestinians have had the wrong kind of leaders: usually irredentists determined to pocket political concessions while encouraging hostility toward Jews, like Yasser Arafat, or ineffectual buffoons like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, which responded to Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza by stepping up rocket attacks on Israeli towns, behaves very much in the genocidal tradition of the Mufti.

No discussion of Gaza and continuing Palestinian terrorism would be complete without mention of the roles that Iran and Syria play in encouraging the violence. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah all receive arms and funding from Tehran and Damascus. On Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once more questioned Israel’s right to exist. “This is a fake regime, ” Ahmadinejad told a rally in Tehran. “It won’t be able to survive.” He called on the West to “take [Israel] away themselves.” The pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat reported that the ultimatum issued Thursday, calling for the exchange of 100 female Palestinian prisoners and 30 male prisoners held by Israel for Cpl. Shalit, was approved by Hamas’s Damascus office.

Indeed, Hamas operatives (most likely at the direction of Khaled Meshaal, a top Hamas leader based in Damascus), issued a series of ultimata demanding that Israel release male, female and juvenile prisoners in exchange for Cpl. Shalit. They are held for crimes such as planning suicide bombings, assisting in terrorist operations and throwing Molotov cocktails. One of the most prominent of the female terrorists is Ahlam Tamimi, a Hamas member who participated in the Aug. 9, 2001, bombing of a Sbarro pizza restaurant in Jerusalem, in which 15 persons were killed, including seven children. More than 130 others were injured.

Even as the Israeli military operation in Gaza moves forward, Hamas operatives sent a message of their own last week, firing a rocket from Gaza into the center of Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people, where it hit a parking lot near an empty school building. With a range of at least 8 miles, this was the longest-range rocket fired at Israel from Gaza. According to Ze’ev Schiff, the military correspondent for the daily Ha’aretz, the rocket was smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.

As Israel continues the struggle against jihadist terror, the new United Nations Human Rights Council picked up where its predecessor — the discredited Human Rights Commission — left off, adopting a one-sided resolution pushed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference demanding that Israel halt its military campaign for survival. The Palestinian provocations must be ignored, the council believes. Canada, Japan, Britain, France and Germany voted against the resolution. Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba and Pakistan were among those voting to condemn Israel. The United States does not sit on the Human Rights Council.

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