No one should be surprised at the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teenagers (two of whom were just 16 years old): Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach. All were dumped in a field.
Welcome to the “resistance,” Hamas style. Though it’s not yet clear who specifically authorized this attack, at present the evidence suggests Hamas is responsible. Suspicion has centered on two suspects in particular.
What comes next? Ultimately, only Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows. That being said, it’s likely that this incident will lead to significant Israeli retaliation. Thus far, the political reaction has been fierce. Chairing an emergency cabinet meeting, Netanyahu stated that “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.” Other members of his conservative coalition government have matched this sentiment. According to nationalist leader Naftali Bennett, “Now is the time for actions, not talk.” Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has ended his trip to Europe. “We will . . . punish the villainous terrorists with a firm hand,” said the normally conciliatory Israeli president, Shimon Peres. “Our war on terror will only grow . . . such that this murderous terror will not dare raise its head.”
There’s a special anger to this reaction. It reflects three things: first, the popular fury in Israel at the evil of this act; second, the context of escalating rocket fire from Hamas and Islamic Jihad; third, Israel’s deeper anger at Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s unity government with Hamas. On this last point, it’s worth noting that Bennett last week referred to Abbas as a “mega terrorist.” From the Israeli far right, Abbas is seen as irredeemable. Facing this outrage, Netanyahu will come under major pressure from Bennett and Lieberman to respond with a sustained military campaign. It’s notable that even before the bodies were found, Lieberman was calling for a reoccupation of Gaza. Netanyahu may himself now favor such action. After all, over the past few days, the Israeli prime minister has warned Hamas that continued rocket fire from Gaza would meet escalation.
It’s equally important to remember that Netanyahu will view this attack in light of Israel’s broader security interests. Over the past few days, Netanyahu has called for a new security perimeter on Israel’s eastern border with Jordan. Netanyahu says this is about countering ISIS. (In part, it’s also about water politics.) Nevertheless, Netanyahu is clearly seeking to bolster Israel’s security posture in an increasingly unstable region. Moreover, recognizing Iran’s intimate links with Hamas, Israel in retaliating is likely to be guided by another strategic intent: deterring Iran’s pursuit of hegemony and, in particular, its ongoing nuclear-development program. On Wednesday, the P5+1 will meet with Iran in new nuclear talks. Netanyahu has long doubted the credibility of this process and wants to show that his understanding of Israeli security interests is unbound from the Obama administration.
Regardless, this attack will shake the foundations of Israeli–Palestinian dialogue. Unless Abbas responds by breaking relations with Hamas, Israel will probably continue tightening its security restrictions over both Gaza and the West Bank. At least in the short term, Israel’s appetite for compromise probably died along with those three boys.
To be sure, many will condemn Israeli retaliation when it comes. That’s no surprise. Intoxicated by the mystique of “resistance,” Hamas has manipulated a growing international hostility against Israel. Take the growing academic boycott movement, for example. This idiocy masks the truth: In the end, Hamas terrorists are unrepentant, anti-Semitic killers committed to Israel’s obliteration. Hamas claims to defend innocent Palestinians but then uses them as human shields. Hamas claims to support democracy but then massacres its political opponents. Hamas claims to oppose injustice but revels in the murder of children (remember the Dolphinarium).