The Déjà Vu War

Israel has been here before—and made the same mistakes.

It may sound familiar: A powerful modern army fighting a ragtag group of ill-equipped, yet elusive and well-connected, terrorists. The stronger foe finally responds to incessant acts of terror against its civilians by retaliating forcefully, supposedly inflicting massive damage on the terrorist infrastructure. In the end, however, the assault finishes with a whimper as troops retreat.

The terrorists, meanwhile, survive the firestorm intact, declare victory over the larger foe, win sympathy and legitimacy from Western apologists, enjoy sky-high approval ratings across the Arab world and begin the process of rebuilding a much stronger arsenal in preparation for the next round of fighting.

The latest chapter of this all-too-familiar story happened recently in Gaza.

Israel’s Wound

For more than 15 years, Israel’s enemies have used the peace process, which began in Oslo in 1993, to destroy the Jewish state.

Israel unilaterally withdrew its army and even forcefully uprooted its own people from Gaza in 2005. The move was hailed the world over as a bold step toward Palestinian statehood and peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. Fundamentalist Islam, however, viewed the retreat as yet another victory in its ongoing war against the West and one step closer to its goal of eliminating the Jewish state.

Within months of Israel’s evacuation, Palestinians rewarded the most extreme wing of their governing body at the ballot box, handing Hamas 56 percent of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. The international community initially responded with outrage. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations all refused to formally recognize or interact with Hamas.

But with substantial economic and military support coming from its puppet master in Tehran, Hamas survived diplomatic isolation and continued serving Iran’s strategic interests. In June 2006, for example, Hamas gunmen raided an Israeli Army post located near the Israel-Gaza border, killing two idf soldiers and kidnapping another. It was the first time Palestinian terrorists had kidnapped an Israeli soldier in 12 years.

Israel retaliated with Operation Summer Rains, an aerial assault that was supposed to pressure Hamas into returning the captive. Within weeks, however, Israel’s attention abruptly turned to its northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah had kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers while simultaneously launching a massive rocket barrage on the Galilee.

Hezbollah’s victory in the Second Lebanon War further emboldened Hamas in Gaza. In June 2007, Hamas turned the Palestinian unity government on its head in a bloody assault against its Fatah rivals in the Gaza Strip. The civil war cut the Palestinian governing body in two. It left Mahmoud Abbas’s Western-backed Palestinian Authority in control of the West Bank—which Israeli forces still occupy—and the Iranian-sponsored terrorist wing of Hamas in complete control of the Gaza Strip.

Incredibly, Israel responded to the formation of a sovereign, terrorist state in Gaza by simply ignoring Hamas—and the 5,000 rockets it launched on Israel since the 2005 disengagement. Moreover, Israel promised more territorial concessions to Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Within weeks of the violent coup in Gaza, Israel began another round of negotiations with the PA aimed at handing over the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem to help create a Palestinian state that would exist side by side with Israel.

The international community overwhelming favors this two-state “solution,” seemingly blind to the obvious fact that a Palestinian state already exists alongside Israel—in Gaza.

And it hasn’t solved anything.

Last year, as the Bush administration pushed for a final-status deal between Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert, and as the international community pumped $1.7 billion into the Palestinian Authority, Hamas undertook a massive buildup for war against Israel.

In December, the war came. In response to Hamas’s barrage of rockets and mortars on Israeli targets, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead. Despite the success of the opening salvo of airstrikes, it was clear from the beginning that Israel’s retaliation against the rocket attack would not turn out well for the Jewish state. Israel began its campaign intent on deterring Hamas from doing two things: firing rockets from Gaza and smuggling illegal weapons from Egypt. It only wanted to weaken Hamas. And just like the Second Lebanon War, it was in a race against time—Israel had to weaken the terrorists before governments around the world and the weight of global public opinion would pressure Israel to cease fire.

In announcing the ceasefire on January 17, Olmert declared that Israel had achieved its goals. This claim was unconvincing, however, since the primary goal of the operation had been to stop rocket fire from Gaza—and the rockets never did stop. Hamas still managed to fire about 30 rockets into southern Israel the day of the ceasefire. Within three days, Israeli troops left Gaza—leaving Hamas to pick up where it had left off. Thousands of Hamas supporters attended rallies to celebrate the victory.

The Gaza Litmus Test

The Gaza war certainly revealed Israel’s lack of will in using its awesome power. But it revealed several more critical lessons, as this issue of the Trumpet will thoroughly explain.

It showed the Muslim world dividing into two blocs: those that support Iran—like Iraq and the masses on the street in countries like Egypt—and those that don’t support Iran, and are even afraid of Iran’s power—such as the “moderate” governments of countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan. It showed the true colors of Israel’s ally Turkey, whose leaders condemned Israel’s actions perhaps more harshly than those of any other country.

It showed that anti-Semitism is more virulent than ever around the world as ugly demonstrations in city after city slammed Israel and supported Hamas. It showed the Western media—not to mention the Arab media—is as biased as ever, reporting Hamas-controlled information as fact and regurgitating the terrorist group’s propaganda as hard news. It showed the United Nations living up to its track record with blanket condemnation of Israel and blanket exoneration of terrorists.

It has enabled Europe to further establish itself as a player in the peace process—and possibly as a force on the ground.

Perhaps the biggest lesson is that the real victor was Hamas’s enabler: Iran.

More than ever, Iran’s proxy Hamas emerged as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian cause, in the eyes both of Palestinians and of regional actors. Israel no doubt had hoped—as had Fatah, initially—that striking Hamas would leave the supposedly moderate Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority as the only credible leadership for Palestinians to rally around. It should have known better. Resistance to Israel has always been a vote-getter for terrorists-turned-politicians—as Hezbollah and even Hamas have already clearly demonstrated. The upshot is that support for Hamas is growing among Palestinians in the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Through its assault on Gaza, Israel has, in fact, unwittingly helped secure Hamas’s future takeover of the West Bank.

“It may take some time,” one columnist wrote in a Beirut newspaper, “but Hamas will take over the West Bank.”

By simply resisting Israel and surviving, Hamas’s popularity skyrocketed. Despite what might be considered a tactical loss, Hamas—and Iran—gained an enormous strategic victory.

All of which means this: Israel suffered yet another loss.

But the most important and inspiring lesson of the Gaza war is this: It means the climax of end-time events is very near—events that will culminate in Jerusalem with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!