Israel’s military operation against Hamas targets in Gaza should have come as no surprise. Israel could not tolerate a terrorist regime on its border that was launching repeated rocket and mortar attacks – 200 in the last week alone – against Israeli towns and villages.

Allyson M. Gall

Israel unilaterally evacuated Gaza in 2005, with the result that Gazans had their first opportunity in history to govern themselves. But Hamas played a wrecking role. Local elections in 2006 led to a coalition of Palestinian Authority and Hamas leaders, followed by a Hamas coup d’état the following year. The PA was ignominiously expelled from Gaza, seeking refuge in the West Bank, and the Hamas regime faced international isolation.

Hamas is defined as a terrorist group by both the United States and European Union. The international community set forth three basic conditions to engage Hamas – recognition of Israel’s right to exist, an end to violence, and willingness to abide by previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements

To date, Hamas has not fulfilled any of the conditions. After all, its charter calls for the elimination of Israel and, it should be added, spews hatred of Jews wherever they might live.

Since gaining control of Gaza, Hamas has focused not on building Palestinian society, but rather on seeking to destroy Israeli society. With substantial help from Iran and an extensive smuggling network across the Egyptian border, Hamas has turned Gaza into an armed camp and munitions factory.

Israeli towns near the border have been targeted by literally thousands of rocket and mortar attacks. As the range of the rockets has grown, so, too, has the arc of vulnerable Israeli population centers.

Israel’s policy options have been limited. Negotiating with Hamas is impossible, unless Israel is prepared to discuss the terms of its own capitulation. Seeking a ceasefire or lull, as occurred earlier this year, buys some quiet, but at the price of Hamas using the break to enhance its weapons capabilities, train its fighters, and reinforce its command-and-control infrastructure, modeled on Hezbollah’s example in Lebanon.

Hamas has counted on its ability to attack Israel at will, while assuming Israeli restraint. The terrorist group calculated that Israel no longer had the will to fight and risk military casualties in teeming Gaza. It also doubtless assumed that Israel would be held back by fear of negative publicity, since Hamas has, in the past, skillfully exploited the media to focus on Palestinian civilian casualties, real or contrived, that inevitably lead to diplomatic and editorial condemnation.

This time, Hamas misread Israel. It opted to believe its own propaganda about an Israel fearful of a barrage of Hamas missiles aimed at the south, and worried about an exit strategy once it entered Gaza.

To this point, Israel showed remarkable restraint, which Hamas misread as weakness. But Israel has an obligation to defend its borders and its citizens. It has the military and intelligence capability to do so. And, no less, despite upcoming elections, it has the collective political will. All these elements have been impressively on display in the current military operation.

As soon as Israel struck, some in the international community predictably returned to formulaic stances. Many, but not all, Arab nations condemned Israel. In truth, some could not be more pleased that Israel is dealing a blow to Hamas and its Iranian paymaster. The European Union referred to Israel’s “disproportionate” use of force, but what exactly is “proportionate” in a situation where Hamas-led Gaza seeks a permanent state of conflict with Israel? And the UN calls for an immediate end to the violence, as if that will magically persuade Hamas to rethink its reason for being.

Let’s be clear. It is in Israel’s interests to have a peaceful and prosperous Gaza on its border. Instead, it is faced with Hamastan, a terrorist enclave. What Israel is doing now is exactly what any other nation would do under similar circumstances. In fact, Israel has probably held back longer than many other nations, including the United States, would have done.

Some argue that there is no military solution to Gaza. Quite true. In the long term, Gaza’s residents need to decide if they want a potentially bright future without Hamas or an assuredly bleak future with it. But in the short term, Israel must convey the clear message that it will defend itself, exactly as it is doing right now.