Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Jonathan Schanzer, deputy director of the Jewish Policy Center. He has served as a counterterrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of Treasury and as a research fellow at Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He is the author of the new book, Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine. Daniel Pipes wrote the foreword to the book and some of the research was undertaken at Pipes’ Middle East Forum.
FP: Jonathan Schanzer, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Schanzer: Thanks, Jamie.
FP: You are an expert on Hamas and Fatah. What were Hamas’s calculations in it its rocket attacks?
Schanzer: First, it is important to stress that these rocket volleys are not at all new. Hamas has been firing rockets consistently at Israel for many years now – since 2001. Even during the recent ceasefire, or “lull” as some call it, Hamas fired salvo after salvo of rockets against Israel.
From a targeting perspective, as I note in my book, Hamas really has no calculations. Qassam rockets are very crude homemade weapons. They are virtually impossible to fire with any accuracy. Hamas simply aims them in the direction of Israeli civilian populations and then hopes that they cause damage or casualties.
In terms of a broader strategy, Hamas fires these rockets because its financial patron, Iran, encourages the group to do so. In fact, I would venture to say that Hamas would not have broken the ceasefire had it not gotten permission from the Mullahs to do so.
On a grassroots level, Hamas gains popularity by carrying out violence against the Jewish state. In other words, causing Israeli bloodshed strengthens Hamas’s political standing on the Palestinian street, where the majority puts a premium on anti-Israel violence.
FP: So if the majority of Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas’s vision of destroying Israel, which is reflected in the fact that the Palestinians elected these radical Islamists to power in 2006, how exactly can the world not blame the Palestinians for what we now see unfolding? Expand for us a bit on Palestinians’ support for violence against Jews and how any peace can even be possible if that kind of hate is not dealt with and denounced.
Schanzer: You get to the crux of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict here. The conflict exists because most Palestinians still seek the destruction of the State of Israel. This is why Hamas, an organization that is known primarily for its suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel, won the popular vote in the free and fair legislative elections of 2006. Suicide attacks and rocketing get wide approval ratings in the Palestinian territories. This is, to some extent, why Hamas and other groups continue to employ these violent tactics. The decision to support murder and bloodshed is now backfiring horribly on the Palestinian people.
FP: Did Hamas hope for this Israeli response?
Schanzer: Unquestionably, Hamas knew that Israel would respond with force and probably looked forward to it on some level. They readied their photographers and public relations people to begin disseminating stories of Israeli “aggression.”
Hamas now hopes for an Israeli ground assault. Hamas has used this six-month tahdiyeh (calm or lull, in Arabic) to build up its arsenal. Over the last half-year, they have stockpiled katyusha rockets, grad rockets, mines, high-powered sniper rifles, night vision goggles, sophisticated anti-tank missiles, and deadly Iranian explosives. They’ve also created an elaborate reinforced bunker system. So, if the Israel Defense Forces enters Gaza, the Hamas fighting forces they encounter will be fierce. Even small victories in a war that Hamas will almost certainly lose will help boost the Hamas image. The group casts itself as David battling Goliath. In this way, they almost can’t lose unless they are completely annihilated.
FP: So why does the international community support Hamas in its tahdiyeh when it is so clearly employed just as a preparation for renewed conflict against Israel?
Schanzer: The international community wants to avoid conflict at all costs, even when it’s just kicking the can down the road. That’s exactly what happened here. The tahdiyeh was just a temporary calm that enabled Hamas to prepare for another round of fighting.
My question here is not why the international community supported this re-arming period. I question the Israeli rationale for allowing Hamas to replenish its military supplies, train fighters, and prepare for battle.
FP: Let’s move on to the military action itself. Why did Israel react and why now? Is it the right thing to do? Is Israel going about it the right way?
Schanzer: What the public needs to understand is that this violence did not simply “break out,” which is what the mainstream media reports. Back in June, Hamas declared that it would maintain a lull in violence against Israel for six months. This was not an agreement with Israel. It was a unilateral decision. Similarly, it was a unilateral decision for Hamas to begin firing rockets into Israel when Hamas chose to end its ceasefire. Not surprisingly, when the rockets began to rain down on Israel, the Israel Defense Forces responded. And it is doing so in accordance with international law.
There are, of course, those who make ludicrous claims of “disproportional force.” But these are merely opinions of what an appropriate response might look like. This has nothing to do with the legality of Israel’s military operations.
In my opinion, Israel’s strategy to date has been the right one. The Israelis have not risked the lives of their soldiers. All the while, the air force continues to pound high value Hamas targets with the help of satellite imagery. The Israelis now warn that there will be new phases in its counteroffensive.
FP: Expand a bit on how what Israel is doing is in accordance with international law.
Schanzer: Without getting too technical here, Israel is hitting only military targets with surgical air strikes and expending great effort to avoid civilian casualties. It has also made a compelling case that it is acting in self-defense. Israel is also warning Gaza residents of impending strikes in some cases to further reduce civilian casualties.
I think it’s worth pointing out that when Hamas launches rockets, the goal is to kill as many civilians as possible. Israel takes the opposite approach.
FP: Your thoughts on the hypocrisy of the international community’s, the U.N.’s, and the liberal Left’s condemnations?
Schanzer: The United Nations’s silence in response to Hamas rockets has been deafening. The tired calls for restraint on both sides – after Hamas launched nearly 7,000 rockets into Israel, demonstrates yet again that this international organization lacks credibility.
Surprisingly, some states in the Arab world – notably Egypt and Saudi Arabia – have condemned Hamas for the violence. Similarly, some European states – notably Germany and the Czech Republic – have stood behind Israel’s decision to respond. I expect this support to trail off, however, the longer these operations continue.
As for the liberal Left, we continue to see blind condemnations of Israel’s self-defense measures. This is nothing new.
FP: What explains the United Nations’ silence in response to Hamas rockets?
Schanzer: The United Nations has lost all perspective regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many nations vilify Israel simply because it is a close and vital ally to the United States. Perhaps more to the point, these nations realize they need Arab oil more than they care about international justice. Thus, they vote the way the Arab regimes lobby them to vote. Again, the U.N. has lost all credibility in recent years.
FP: Why have some states in the Arab world, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, condemned Hamas for the violence?
Schanzer: I believe these nations fear the creeping power of the Iranian axis. Hamas is clearly in Iran’s orbit. None of these Sunni states want Iran’s influence to grow any more than it already has.
FP: Fatah has criticized Hamas in all of this? Your interpretation?
Schanzer: As I detail in my book, Fatah is in a full-on war with Hamas. It should therefore come as no surprise that Fatah has slammed Hamas for this confrontation. There are even reports circulating that Fatah seeks to be re-installed as the governing organization in Gaza. We’ll have to see whether Israel sees this as an objective.
FP: Should Israel see re-installing Fatah as the governing organization in Gaza as an objective?
Schanzer: In my view, Israel should not hand over control of the Gaza Strip to Fatah for two reasons.
The first reason is that Fatah seeks the destruction of Israel. Yes, there are moderates within. But the organization as a whole still seeks to replace the Jewish state with an Arab one.
The second reason is that a transfer of power to Fatah would almost certainly fail. Fatah is weak. It’s a group of loosely-affiliated militias that cannot work together. Accordingly, Fatah would almost certainly fail to hold this territory.
It is also worth noting that the residents of Gaza would reject a transfer of power from Israel to Fatah, primarily because it would be viewed as some sort of malicious Israeli initiative.
FP: Final thoughts?
Schanzer: Israel has all of the means at its disposal to destroy Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It has the strongest, best-trained, and most mechanized military in the Middle East. However, the IDF cannot expect limited operations to eliminate Hamas. Limited means will only yield limited results.
FP: And so you are suggesting?
Schanzer: I’m suggesting that Israel should not stop short of a victory. If Israel fails to fully defeat Hamas – if it does not force it into an unconditional surrender – we will see a repeat of this war in another six months or another year.
FP: Jonathan Schanzer, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Schanzer: Thank you.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine’s managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.