One ideological goal that has animated foreign policy decision-making over the past three U.S. administrations has been a desire to retreat from “forever wars.” For Israel, such a fantasy-driven ambition is impossible. While she neither seeks nor initiates conflict, Israel has, since her founding, been engaged in never-ending war. It wasn’t until the Abraham Accords (resulting from the Persian Gulf nations’ recognition of Israel’s strategic, military, and economic strength in the face of an emboldened Iran seeking nuclear weapons), that a glimmer of hope was ignited regarding a broader peace in the Middle East.
Iran and its terror proxies in the Gaza Strip, however, have a different plan as they wage against Israel continuous hostilities and “wars between wars,” as detailed in Jonathan Schanzer’s Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel, and Eleven Days of War. In his fourth book, Schanzer, a Middle East historian and foreign policy expert, does a superb job of explaining the events, alliances, and ideologies that led to Operation Guardian of the Walls (OGW). He details the influence of Iran and other malign players on their never-ending efforts to destroy Israel, and shares the disheartening reality that, “Hamas exists to fight Israel. The group’s patrons provide funds and other assistance for exactly that reason. War will unfortunately come again.”
“Operations” not “Wars”
Since Hamas gained power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, there have been four “official” wars, none of which have ended with a decisive Israeli victory, what Schanzer describes as an all too “familiar theme.” Each time, Hamas strikes with more missiles, gaining greater precision, and reaching further into the country. And each time, the international community condemns Israel. In 2008, Operation Cast Lead resulted in the infamous UN-led Goldstone Report that Schanzer terms “a weapon of ‘lawfare’ against Israel.” It was followed by Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, Operation Protective Edge in 2014, and OGW. A senior Israeli military official explained, “We call them operations because one day there could be a much bigger war. We want the Israeli population to be prepared for that, and to know the difference.”
The “international community,” lacking a moral compass on issues pertaining to Israel fighting for survival, also has a different plan for the Jewish state. OGW not only green-lighted even more open and rampant antisemitism across the world as Israel was accused of war crimes; it became the basis for news media lies, UN inquisitions, and anti-Israel propaganda. After reading Schanzer’s book, all of this seems even more insane as he methodically walks the reader through the reality of life in Gaza under Hamas control – and life in Israel under Hamas’ constant attacks.
At the conclusion of reading Gaza Conflict 2021, one wonders on what basis the international community continues to target Israel for rebuke since Israel simply seeks to defend herself while simultaneously preventing as much collateral damage to the Palestinian civilian population as is humanly possible. But as Schanzer points out, Israel’s weakest front in its battle for legitimacy is perhaps in fighting the war of ideas.
The War of Ideas
Schanzer provides compelling evidence for his premise that in initiating OGW, “Hamas’ goal was never to defeat Israel militarily. The terror group and its supporters knew that would not happen. Rather, the goal was to elicit public support for the Palestinian cause and to sow fear among Israelis. It accomplished both objectives.” One Israeli official confirmed this point stating that while OGW “was a win for us tactically … it was a loss strategically. Strategic communication is our weakest point.” No matter how many steps Israel takes to limit damage while defending herself, she invariably faces accusations of committing atrocities. In fact, Iran and its proxies actually plan for every Israeli strike to create a public-relations disaster for Israel since their use of human shields will produce images of wounded or dead civilians for the Israel-hating public to consume in outrage.
The perfect example of this is Israel’s targeted strike on the Al-Jalaa Tower which, in addition to housing Associated Press and Al-Jazeera offices, was used to hide Hamas infrastructure. While the targeted strike was conducted after multiple warnings for the building’s evacuation and did not result in a single death, the public backlash was nonetheless quick and ferocious (partly due to a successful PR campaign by Hamas). Schanzer explains that Israel had “no choice” because Hamas was hiding technology deployed to jam Iron Dome, their defensive weapons system that had successfully saved countless Israeli lives. Furthermore, without the successful airstrike on the building, a ground force invasion would have been required which would have led to innocent civilians in Gaza paying with their lives. No matter, the condemnation for the targeted strike became one more public-relations nightmare for Israel.
The Hamas Caucus
Would that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of Congress’ “Hamas Caucus” read this book and understood, among other things, that Iron Dome is a defensive weapon that destroys incoming missiles thus saving lives. Schanzer explains that during OGW, Israel faced the highest daily rate of rocket fire in its history as the Hamas spokesman shared that its goal was to “overcome the so-called Iron Dome by adopting the tactic of firing dozens of missiles in one single burst.” Furthermore, as Iran’s efforts in helping Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah on its northern border develop more accurate precision guided missiles (PGMs), Iron Dome may very well be overwhelmed and even run out of interceptors in a prolonged conflict. One Israeli official said that “with enough PGMs, the impact on certain targets could be close to the impact of a nuclear weapon.”
No matter, the Hamas Caucus wishes to end U.S. funding of Iron Dome seemingly in hopes that more dead Jews will somehow lead to peace. They simultaneously ignore the horrific crimes against humanity committed by Hamas – including using civilians as human shields, targeting Israeli civilians with rockets and incendiary balloons, and using international humanitarian aid to build weapons and terror tunnels for the purpose of kidnapping IDF soldiers. Without Iron Dome there would also be more dead Palestinians since Israel would be forced to use less accurate weapons that could lead to greater collateral damage. Schanzer writes, “Had Israel simply returned fire to the exact spot of every rocket launch, regardless of its surroundings, there would have been an unspeakable bloodbath.”
The Media’s Role
The Hamas Caucus has partners in the international media that obsessively demonize Israel while ignoring Palestinian intransigence and terrorism. The news media’s obsession with disproportionate death counts led to the narrative that Israel had launched an offensive war rather than the reality that not only did Israel not launch the first missile, but it also spent about as much on missile defense to destroy incoming Hamas rockets as is estimated will be required for Gaza reconstruction.
The media also failed to accurately report the events that preceded OGW, ignoring the fact that “Hamas usually picks these fights every few years, and it does not need a particular reason. Fighting the Jewish state is the group’s raison d’etre.” Reports blamed the conflict on the Sheikh Jarrah legal dispute while ignoring history, Israel and Iran’s “ongoing shadow war across the Middle East,” patterns discernible from prior conflicts between Hamas and Israel, Hamas’ brutality, and political division among Palestinians. Most importantly, West Bank-based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s cancellation of scheduled elections that likely would have led to Hamas’ victory, left Hamas deciding that the way to reassert itself among the Palestinians was by inciting war with Israel.
Thousands of miles away, Schanzer was able to closely monitor the conflict in real time and report it accurately. The media failed.
Iran and its Money
Given the Vienna nuclear negotiations (at this writing, it appears a deal with Iran that will be even weaker and more dangerous than the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is near), Iran’s aggression in the region and the world cannot be ignored and is an integral part of the discussions throughout the book. Iran is the world’s largest state-sponsor of terrorism, funding, training, and weaponizing its proxies in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza. It is also responsible for deaths and injuries to thousands of U.S. soldiers and civilians, and like its proxy Hamas, seeks the annihilation of Israel. It is therefore mind-boggling that President Joe Biden turned the Trump administration’s Maximum Pressure campaign that had a major impact on Iran into what one of Schanzer’s colleagues recently called Minimum Deterrence.
Schanzer previously worked as a terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department and provides a great deal of insight on the topic. Iran received a massive financial windfall from the Obama administration. The Islamic Republic “was conservatively estimated to have reaped $100 billion in direct sanctions relief and other concessions,” on top of tens of billions in indirect sanctions relief. Today, as sanctions, including terrorism sanctions, are once again lifted and Iran becomes flush with money, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others will be able to advance their construction of terror tunnels, PGMs, and other weapons directed against Israel. In fact, a 2019 Treasury Department report indicated that “in the past four years, [Iran’s] IRGC-QF transferred over $200 million to” Hamas’ operational arm in Gaza. In the words of Iran’s supreme leader in 2020:
Iran realized Palestinian fighters’ only problem was lack of access to weapons. With divine guidance and assistance, we planned, and the balance of power has been transformed in Palestine, and today the Gaza Strip can stand against the aggression of the Zionist enemy and defeat it.
Schanzer wisely notes that “to ignore Iran’s regional designs and patronage of terrorist groups is to ignore the most important aspect of a conflict that Washington says it hopes to end.”
In addition to never-ending military attacks on Israel and its citizens, Israel faces a strategic and organized assault on its legitimacy from many fronts. These include non-governmental organizations, pro-Palestinian groups, the “media circus,” the “Hamas Caucus” in Congress, the International Criminal Court, and the “Orwellian” United Nations Human Rights Council – another forever war with seemingly no end in sight. It is within this context that Schanzer’s book is both timely and a critically important tool that should be read by everyone in the world’s foreign policy establishment and certainly by every member of the UNHRC Commission of Inquiry that was recently established to persecute Israel for alleged human rights violations.
Equally important would be for Gaza Conflict 2021 to become an integral part of both high school and college curricula surrounding the Middle East and Israel. It is factual and supported by extensive endnotes, easy to read, flows well, and educates. In short, it is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iranian support for global terrorism, and the precarious nature of Israel’s survival in the face of forever wars conducted by both regional foes and the international community that fails to appreciate the history and political forces behind those seeking Israel’s annihilation.
Lauri B. Regan is the New York chapter president and advisory board member of Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) and vice president, treasurer, and board member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.