Imagine spending every day apprehensively waiting for a loud siren to blare, signaling that you have 60 to 90 seconds to find shelter. What would you do? How would you send your children to school? How would you go to work? It is difficult — if not inconceivable — for most Americans to imagine living their lives like this. Yet, many Israelis have had to live with this threat from Hamas rocket and missile attacks day in and day out for years. In fact, in just the week before Israel launched its recent military operation against Hamas, hundreds of rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israeli civilian areas, including the firing of 80 rockets on just a single day.
Last February, on a trip to the Middle East, I visited the Israeli town of Sderot, about three miles north of the border with Gaza. I learned from the town’s mayor of the toll taken on residents from more than eight years of rocket attacks by Hamas. At the police station I saw rack after rack of the charred remains of rockets and missiles launched by Hamas against the civilian population of Sderot. In fact, not more than 15 minutes after we departed the city, a Hamas-launched Qassam rocket — identical to the hundreds seen at that police station — fell on an Israeli home in Sderot, destroying it, but thankfully, harming no one.
The fundamental obligation of any government is to protect its citizens. It is for that reason that, having exhausted every other option, Israel launched a military operation against the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza strip. Israel is justified in taking action against the terrorists who have been attacking its citizens with impunity for years. While we wish to see the violence come to an end, Israel must be allowed to protect itself.
Unlike the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians that Hamas perpetrates, Israel takes every step possible to avoid the deaths of civilians. Hamas launches unguided explosive rockets into Israeli cities like Sderot, striking homes, schools and hospitals with the explicit purpose of terrorizing the civilian population. Israel, on the other hand, puts its soldiers and pilots into extraordinary danger to avoid accidental harm to civilians in Gaza. Even now, Israel is working to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population in Gaza. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that the actions of Hamas and Israel are the same. In fact, one reason Palestinian civilians are sometimes killed or injured is that Hamas intentionally locates its facilities and even rocket launch areas near schools and hospitals.
There have been many voices heard in the international community calling for an immediate end to the attacks from both parties. This ignores the fact that every nation has the right to defend itself from terrorists; in fact, it is a basic element of the United Nations Charter. If the international community wants to take action to prevent unnecessary violence, there are two places it should start.
First, Hamas imports the weapons it uses against Israel, primarily by smuggling them through elaborate tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. The United States has taken steps to help the Egyptians find these tunnels and destroy them, but more should be done. The international community should follow our lead by working with the Egyptians to stop this destabilizing arms smuggling by training Egyptian police and military forces, and providing them with surveillance and detection equipment. The international community should also make clear that this support, and other multilateral assistance (like that from the World Bank and IMF), is contingent on Egypt taking concrete steps to cut off all support flowing across the border to aid Hamas. For its part, the United States should condition its $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt on such progress.
Second, nowhere is international action more overdue than in stopping Iran’s assistance to Hamas. For years, Iran has been the source of money, training — including training at the facilities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran itself — and weapons to Hamas. Hamas’ relationship with Iran is so close that the Egyptian president said this past May that Hamas rule in Gaza means that Egypt has a “border with Iran.” Since Israel launched its military operation against Hamas, Iran has announced stepped-up arms shipments. Senior Iranian clerics have organized recruiting drives to send Iranians to Hamas’ aid. Yet the international community has taken no action to counter Iran’s support of Hamas terrorists. A United Nations Security Council Resolution sanctioning Iran for its assistance to Hamas would send an important message and would be a good place to start.
Americans must support Israel because we understand since 9/11 that terrorism anywhere is a threat to free people everywhere.