By Any Means Necessary?Stephen Eric Bronner Reader Supported News
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah began launching forty-five hundred missiles against Israel on October 7th 2023, fifty years after the Yom Kippur War, a disaster for Israel, which ended in an agreement with Egypt. Nearly two thousand people have already been killed, many of them children and the aged. There have been reports of widespread rape and indiscriminate murder. Hundreds of civilian hostages have been taken, some have been executed, and others are threatened with death. There is no excusing any of this. Nor can exigency justify surrendering humanitarian ethics in favor of a misguided and romantic anti-imperialism. Israel's assailants will elicit a siege of Gaza and a ferocious counter-attack that will cost everyday citizens dearly. Foreign critics will then assuredly condemn Israel's response, and ignore what caused it, while authoritarian theocrats toast the humiliation of their enemy's vaunted intelligence apparatus.
Israelis are scared, and they should be. Whether or not the sins of Hamas have been exaggerated by the Western press, and its talk of driving the Jews into the sea is really just for show, the sectarian brutality of Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, and the anti-Semitic regime in Tehran, assuredly have not. Prejudice becomes evident when those, normally horrified by the inhumane treatment of innocent people, suddenly glorify military aggression. And isn't it hypocritical for people who will never suffer the consequences to cheer on the militants' attack? Those with humanistic values have no business supporting terrorist and anti-democratic movements, such as Islamic Jihad, which have in the past vetoed any and all prospects for peace with useless missile attacks. If there is anything like a "just war," moreover, it will not permit the treatment of civilians as combatants or soldiers, and to execute them as hostages is to engage in Nazi tactics.
"By any means necessary" is not a strategy, but a travesty. Should those words be taken literally? Does the end really justify the means? Perhaps it is better to ask what justifies the end since it is, after all, nothing more than the product of the means used to realize it. The rest is just metaphysics or wishful thinking. Unless some plausible connection exists between ends and means is demonstrated there is only metaphysics, manipulation, or wishful thinking. Face it: unleashing the war machine occurred less for the liberation of the Gazan "people" than for the self-interested aims of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Iran.
All of them fear regional peace not because it threatens Gaza, but because it threatens their geopolitical standing. In the aftermath of the pre-emptive strike, Iran can now watch the United States scramble to provide more aid for Israel, lessen the amount it spends on Ukraine, and thus strengthen its Russian ally. Meanwhile, Hamas and its allies can enjoy the havoc they have wreaked; it might last a generation. They surely know that Israelis, like citizens of any nation, will rally around their leaders if they feel their nation is imperiled. The paralyzing polarization of recent years has already subsided and the creation of a national unity coalition is on the agenda that will take revenge.
But that is precisely what the anti-Israeli alliance wants. Its strategy is guided less "by any means necessary" than "the worse the better." New attacks on Gaza by Israel will delay Israel's reconciliation with Saudi Arabia, further disrupt the region, and seemingly validate new rounds of violence. For what? Hamas and its allies surely know that Israel will not collapse. But it doesn't matter since they have no institutional alternative to offer anyway. They are engaging in bloodshed for the sake of bloodshed because their political survival depends upon the existence of inflamed hostilities, the more intense the better.
To argue that the interests of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and their Iranian sponsor are the same as those of "the people" is an act of willful blindness. I am not a Zionist and I criticized Israeli policies before it was fashionable. I have little use for identity politics and I have written elsewhere about my views and ideas on the conflict. Here is not the place to lay out an agenda. For now, it is enough to call for a cease-fire. History will call to account those who defend one atrocity in order to avenge another. Those are the people who insist upon an eye for an eye and especially under present circumstances, unlike Gandhi, forget that this will leave the whole world blind.
Stephen Eric Bronner is Co-Director of the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue (www.icdd.info) and Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University.
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