Israel has been extremely dilatory in responding to the aggression of Hamas, but nobody doubted that the day of reckoning would come. Hamas is never going to change its belief that it has a God-given mission to destroy Israel, and the capacity to do so.
Since 2001, something on the order of 4,000 missiles, and the same number of mortar shells, have been fired from Gaza at civilian targets miles into Israel. Since taking power in Gaza, Hamas has split the Palestinians into two irreconcilable camps, with themselves as Islamists and Fatah under Mahmoud Abbas as putative nationalists (albeit with their own jihadist elements).
While the latter camp has been negotiating for a peace settlement, Hamas has been preparing openly for the final war its leaders envision, asserting at every opportunity that it will never under any circumstances settle for the two-state solution that most of the world hopes for. The truce Hamas offered was an opportunity to stockpile weapons and undergo training. Hamas interpreted Israeli restraint as evidence that Israel was unable to defend its sovereignty and was therefore actually on the path to defeat and national dissolution.
For Hamas, the decision to resume hostilities carries no political risk. At best, they will kill some Israelis, boast of their heroic stature, and crow that Fatah can no longer claim to represent Palestinians. At worst, they will suffer a mass of casualties and make propaganda out of that, as though they themselves were not responsible for these horrors. Hamas is already cashing in on opportunistic pronouncements by the likes of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France that the Israeli measures are “disproportionate,” or the burbling of Ban Ki-Moon, the ineffable United Nations secretary general, that “violence” is “unacceptable” — as though Israel and Hamas were moral equivalents.
An essential factor in this tragic situation is the readiness of Arabs and Muslims everywhere to take the Hamas fantasy for reality. In Cairo, Damascus, or Tehran, many evidently think it right and proper and normal for Hamas to keep up a barrage of missiles and rockets while Israelis are supposed to accept the punishment, while measures of self-defense on the part of Israel are to be considered criminal. The 2006 spell of fighting between Israel and Lebanon ended without a sufficiently clear-cut resolution, and this has led to the widespread delusion in the Arab and Muslim world that the destruction of Israel is indeed a real prospect.
Israel wants there to be no mistake about that again. At present, its ground forces are in position to complete any mopping up of Hamas military equipment that the air force has not dealt with. The disarmament of Hamas is an essential prerequisite of peace, for unless and until that happens, the Palestinian state must remain stillborn. The Israelis are fighting to free themselves from an unscrupulous opponent, but over and above that, the great hope is that they eventually will be able also to free the Palestinians — not only from leaders who are terrorizing them, but from the delusion that choosing such leaders can lead to anything but ruin.