Three. That is the number of times Israel has fought Hamas since 2007, when the terror group seized control of the Gaza Strip. There was Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and now Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In all three cases the story has been the same: Israel is attacked; Israel responds; Israel is condemned; Israel ceases fire. Hamas is weakened. Hamas recovers. The rockets return. Rewind and repeat.
Prime Minister Netanyahu says the war won’t end until the tunnels Hamas uses to attack Israel are destroyed. After that, one presumes, the Israelis will withdraw. And then? We know the answer. Hamas will rebuild. Hamas will rearm. Hamas will dig. Hamas will kill.
This isn’t speculation. Inciting, arming, digging, and killing are what Hamas does. Theft, murder, terror, hatred, paranoia, propaganda—these are not affects of Hamas. These are not learned behaviors. They are the elements of its DNA.
Want to end the war? I am not asking if you want to end Operation Protective Edge. I am asking if you want to end Hamas’ war on Israel. And if that is what you want, then the answer is simple: Free Gaza from Hamas.
I understand I am in the minority. "Israel’s ideal outcome," write Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, "would be for Hamas to capitulate to Israel’s demands to disarm and reform into a defanged version of its current self—a troublesome but manageable part of a larger Palestinian infrastructure."
That is an "ideal" outcome, indeed. It is not a realistic one.
Hamas capitulate? Its charter reads, "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it." Hamas disarm? Its patron Qassem Suleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, says, "Disarmament of resistance is a daydream that will only come true in the graveyard." Hamas reform? Its leader Khaled Meshaal says, "I do not want to live with a state of occupiers." Hamas defanged? It booby-traps homes, kills children, conceals weapons in schools, builds headquarters under hospitals. A defanged tarantula dies because it cannot kill. A defanged Hamas would die for the same reason.
Writing in Haaretz—the flagship of the Israeli left—historian Benny Morris notes the high cost of regime change in Gaza. Long, polarizing, and bloody, the campaign would "exact a serious price in lives from both Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian civilians." Nevertheless, Morris argues, Hamas rule must end.
Why? Because the terrible price in human life is already being paid. It is being parceled out in increments. It is death on an installment plan: a killing here, an act of retaliation there, a mortar attack on one day, an airstrike the next, a war for three weeks, another one three months after that.
Collapse the tunnels or collapse Hamas. Lives will be lost either way. The difference is in the end state. Leave Hamas in charge, and you guarantee the war will resume, and more lives will be lost. Topple Hamas, and you remove the source of the conflict, the first cause of the death and destruction. Lives will be saved over time. Want an example? Casualties spiked during the Iraq surge in 2007. Then both American and civilian casualties plummeted. They remained low for years—until America withdrew.
The main objection to toppling Hamas is fear of the unknown. What would replace it? General Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, recently spoke for many when he said: "If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse."
How much worse? "Something like ISIS."
But "something like ISIS" is exactly what is in charge of the Gaza Strip. Hamas took over Gaza in an illegal coup, runs a one-party totalitarian state, tramples on human rights, steals from its people, kills its political opponents, uses boys and girls as shields, fires rockets at airports, and murders Israelis whenever it can. Hamas was planning a mass casualty attack to coincide with the Jewish New Year. This is the best we can do?
Hamas isn’t the Rotary Club. It’s a terrorist group. Like a search for moderate Taliban, arguing that one violent faction is more acceptable than the other is an exercise in wishful thinking.
Say Islamic Jihad replaced Hamas tomorrow. Would we be able to tell the difference? How would its rhetoric be more genocidal, its propaganda more manipulative, its aims more maximalist, its tactics more barbaric than what Israel experiences now? Would Islamic Jihad have two Palestinian Mickey Mouses exhorting schoolchildren to kill Jews, rather than one?
It’s the same argument made against intervention in Syria: The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. So for three years America has done nothing. And look at what’s happened: We now have to worry about both devils.
Yes, there would be costs to regime change in the Gaza Strip. But the choice is not between a costly policy and a cost-free one. The choice is between the costs of removing a terrorist group from power and the costs of leaving it injured but able to fight another day. To prevent a fourth war, to bolster ties with the Sunni powers, to improve the chances of a two-state solution, to help the Palestinians, above all to secure Israel, the decision is clear. Destroy Hamas. End the war. Free Gaza.