Hamas could count on international support. President Obama has welcomed and even facilitated the Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Egypt and elsewhere, and his relationship with Israel and in particular its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is known to be difficult. Since June, Mohamed Morsi has been president of Egypt, reorienting the country on the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas perceived him as a strategic partner and had reason to hope that under pressure he might break Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. So far, Morsi has been able to utter in public the word “Israel” just once. When the preacher in a Cairo mosque prayed to Allah to destroy the Jews, Morsi was observed to mouth “Amen.”
Farther afield, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has been moving secular Turkey toward Islamism, in the process reversing former good relations with Israel and losing no opportunity to condemn it as a “terrorist state” committing crimes in Gaza. Shortly before the fighting started, the emir of Qatar was the first Arab ruler to visit Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007, bringing with him $400 million. Iran seems to have had military advisers in Gaza to help fire the new missiles.
Even so, Hamas must have anticipated that launching the barrage of missiles that precipitated the crisis would provoke the usual Israeli response. It is evidence of the cultural gap between the parties that in the exercise of power Hamas leaders are willing to call down the destruction of their own territory and the death of their own people. In the same manner, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, and now Bashar al-Assad have laid waste to their countries.
Israel immediately carried out the targeted assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari, the military chief of Hamas, who has a long history of anti-Israeli violence. At the same time, a number of the Fajr-5 missiles were destroyed either on the ground by Israeli bombing or by Iron Dome, Israel’s anti-missile defense system, which was being tested in action for the first time. Only two Fajr-5s seem to have hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Altogether Hamas fired over 1,300 missiles of one type or another. Five Israelis were killed, some 200 were injured, and people all over the country have had to take to air-raid shelters. The Palestinian dead number 163, about half of whom are said to have been terrorists. The campaign lasted eight days, and toward its end, six unfortunate Palestinians accused by Hamas of collaborating with Israel were brought to a busy intersection in Gaza City and summarily shot in front of a crowd of spectators.
Prime ministers of Israel have very limited time before the great powers and transnational bodies such as the United Nations intervene. Fear that the fighting might spread cuts Israel’s freedom of action. At the outset, President Obama handed Israel a pass when he declared that “there’s no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” adding that “we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”