- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ever since Israel launched its air campaign last month against targets associated with the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, politicians, diplomats, military experts and pundits have been consumed with a debate over whether the Israeli assault was legitimate.

The final judgment about the legitimacy of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead may ultimately be determined not by the grounds for that assault or its conduct. Rather, it may depend on how this conflict ends. History is, after all, written by the victors.

To be sure, for many in this debate, the question seems to turn largely on whether the Jewish State has taken justified - and justifiable - “defensive” action or whether it engaged in an unwarranted “offensive” attack, whose brunt is unfairly born by innocent Palestinian civilians. For others, the issue has been whether Israel’s now combined air-, sea- and ground-assault was “proportionate” to the rocket and mortar attacks it has suffered.

By any reasonable definition, Israel’s operations in Gaza are defensive in that they are a response to the roughly 8,000 rocket and mortar rounds that Israeli sources say have been fired from the Strip into the southern part of their country over the last eight years. These attacks increased after Israel withdrew in 2005 from this tiny bit of forlorn real estate with its teeming masses living in deplorable conditions - thanks as much to Arabs who refused to resettle Palestinians elsewhere as to Israelis trying to contain suicide and other attacks from that quarter.

In 2008 alone, Israel was subjected to more than 3,000 incomings - before, during and after the six-month “cease-fire” between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt last summer. In fact, that so-called cease-fire amounted to nothing more than a hudna, a short-term truce associated since Muhammad’s time with a tactical suspension of hostilities that is used by the Islamic party to regroup, rearm and prepare for the next stage of murderous hostilities.

Despite virtually daily incoming rounds from Gaza during the cease-fire, Israel rarely responded, affording Hamas the opportunity to follow the example of its Lebanese Shia counterpart: the Iranian-backed terrorist group, Hezbollah.

As calls for a new cease-fire in Gaza intensify, it is instructive to recall the repercussions of the insistence by the “international community” that the Israelis halt their efforts in the summer of 2006 to prevent what the media misleadingly calls Hezbollah “militants” from raining death and destruction on civilian communities in northern Israel: The self-styled Lebanese Army of God has reconstituted its terrorist infrastructure, acquired a vast new arsenal from Iran, Syria and China and consolidated its position politically.

It would be foolish in the extreme, based on Hamas’ performance during its last hudna, to expect those Palestinian terrorists to do otherwise if they are allowed to survive, thanks to the international imposition of yet another “cease-fire.”

Today, there are roughly a million Israelis within range of the rockets and/or mortars in Hamas’ arsenal. Inevitably, all other things being equal, the lethal capabilities available to terrorists who vow to destroy Israel - and who, by the way, cry “Death to America” with equal vehemence - will only grow.

Such will surely be the case if the Israeli government not only agrees to a new cease-fire that leaves Hamas in place but, far worse, allows international monitors to be installed in the Gaza Strip. While the ostensible justification for the Israelis to accede to the presence of such foreign observers would be to ensure Hamas does not engage in further attacks against Israel, in practice they wind up playing a very different role. If history is any guide, these monitors will serve as shields for Hamas’ terrorist build-up and operations, not an impediment to them.

Such has been the experience, for example, with U.N. forces in southern Lebanon, European Union monitors who were deployed for a time at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza and even U.S.-led multinational forces deployed to monitor the demilitarization of the Sinai.

In each case, activities threatening to the security of Israel have taken place under the noses of the observers. The latter have typically looked the other way, reserving their vigilance and condemnations for any evidence of Israeli infractions.

With Israel’s successful - and, yes, proportionate - insertion of ground forces into Gaza, it is in a position to dictate terms. Unlike Hezbollah in Lebanon during the 2006 war, Hamas is cut off from resupply. It cannot now be rearmed by sea or via underground tunnels - electricity, water, phone service, medicine and food are only available at the sufferance of the Israelis.

Hamas has brought the Palestinian people nothing but grief. Unless it is saved by foreigners - including some like the European Union and United States that have condemned the organization as a terrorist group - Hamas may be unable to maintain its control over Gaza, let alone extend it to the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The last thing the Jewish State should do is jeopardize the legitimacy, let alone the strategic benefits, of its defensive campaign in Gaza by leaving Hamas in place behind international shields. The Shariah-adherent Hamas cannot and will not abandon its oft-stated determination to destroy Israel and the Jews. Allowing it to live and fight another day is to ensure that fewer Jews, and probably other freedom-loving people, will be left to do so.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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