The horror of the carnage overshadows some unpalatable truths about Hamas.
The world television-viewing public is appalled by the daily scenes of carnage transmitted from Gaza, and no doubt the revulsion would be all the greater is more of the media had been allowed by the Israeli Defence Forces into the city to report independently, but the horror of the carnage overshadows some unpalatable truths about Hamas.
Since the Israelis ended their occupation of Gaza the local inhabitants have run their own affairs, no longer subordinate to the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and then the Egyptians.
However, they have opted to support a militant terrorist organization that has squandered opportunities and external financial support to pursue a campaign of waging war against Israel. Over the past year some 5,000 rockets have been fired over the border, some reaching a distance of 40 miles.
It is hard to think of another country in the world where such aggression would be tolerated, and the Israelis have exercised extraordinary restraint until this current incursion.
Critics of Tel Aviv insist the IDF’s intervention is an over-reaction and grossly disproportionate to the provocation, but they are not living in range of the rockets.
The Israelis are clearly determined to confront Hamas because the administration, elected in a poll deemed fair and open by international observers, has demonstrably failed to exercise discipline over the militants who smuggle in the components from Egypt, build the missiles and then launch them under cover of the civilian population, making instant retaliation almost impossible without the risk of hitting the mosques, schools and hospitals that make such valuable propaganda footage.
From an intelligence perspective the challenge is to identify and locate the militants, and neutralize them and their backstreet arms factories without causing the collateral damage that will prompt yet more claims of an atrocity.
The task requires the deployment of forward artillery observers, clandestine infiltrators, unmanned drones and vulnerable helicopters. The Israelis are past masters of these techniques, and this sustained campaign is giving the participants invaluable experience.
Beyond this intangible frontline are the tunnels and arms caches that facilitate the entry of explosives and materiel from Egypt. Although it could be argued that this, in terms of jurisdiction, is a matter for Cairo to deal with, President Hosni Mubbarak is walking a fine line, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians while seeking not to inflame his own opponents in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The solution, of course, is for Hamas to pledge a cessation of further missile attacks, but can its leadership deliver on such a promise, even if it was minded to do so. The real tragedy of Gaza is the reduction of a city and its once viable agricultural industry into a disaster area dominated by aid-dependent terrorists.
The strategy adopted by Hamas, which initially promised a government devoid of the corruption that paralysed Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, has ensured poverty, malnutrition and squalor for Gaza’s inhabitants, and although temporary ceasefires will offer a limited respite, the IDF’s tactics may serve to undermine local support for Hamas, thereby offering the chance of peaceful co-existence.