Shimon Koffler Fogel is the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs
Much discussion of the various conflicts raging throughout the Middle East is characterized by a myopic focus. This is particularly so when it comes to the Israel-Hamas conflict. Imagine how preposterous it would have been in 1941 to discuss the causes and implications of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in isolation from the war in Europe. Similarly, the current fighting in Gaza and Israel cannot be divorced from the broader chaos, violence and rising tide of extremism sweeping from North Africa to Central Asia.
It was once supposed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the root cause of broader regional hostilities, but this naive formulation has been completely upended post-Arab Spring. Escalating violence across the region has virtually nothing to do with Israelis or Palestinians, but is rather being perpetrated to fulfill a specific, Islamist vision.
Consider the Syrian civil war, the ascendance of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) in Iraq, the spread of Al-Shabab terrorism from Somalia into Kenya, and the atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria. The violent advances of extremist Islamist groups in each of these cases are not isolated incidents. While these groups may have theological and local particularities, they are identical in their revolutionary dedication to entrench repressive, theocratic regimes throughout these troubled parts of the world. Hamas is no exception.
Islamist factions like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have usurped the Palestinian national movement. Tragically, they are sacrificing the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians to self-determination on the altar of Islamist theocracy. Their goal is not an agreement with Israel to secure a peaceful two-state solution, but rather a commitment to ongoing, violent jihad that continues to claim far too many Palestinian and Israeli lives.
Hamas is dedicated to the total annihilation of the Jewish state and any hope for a liberal democratic Palestinian society along with it. As is clearly articulated in its foundational covenant, “This is the law governing the land of Palestine in the Islamic Sharia (law) and the same goes for any land the Moslems have conquered by force, because during the times of (Islamic) conquests, the Moslems consecrated these lands to Moslem generations till the Day of Judgment.”
Furthermore, Hamas has submitted the Palestinian cause to a broader pan-Islamist agenda, often manipulated by outside actors. As its covenant states, “Whoever takes Islam as his way of life, be it an organization, a grouping, a country or any other body, the Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] considers itself as their soldiers and nothing more.” In this regard, Hamas “soldiers” have been heavily financed by patrons like Qatar and the Islamic Republic of Iran, commensurate with their support for other Islamist movements throughout the region. Iran in particular has fuelled the flames of war in Gaza and Israel by providing Hamas with long-range missile capabilities.
Broader regional Islamist violence is not driven by the Israel-Palestinian conflict – the inverse is true. As the Islamist trend manifests in local conflicts, the implications have been catastrophic for civilians, particularly minorities. In Syria, more than 2,300 people were killed during Ramadan. In Iraq, the Islamic State – a magnet for foreign jihadi fighters, including many Canadians – has ethnically cleansed the ancient Christian community of Mosul. Likewise, the remaining Jewish communities in Arab countries have been extinguished. The only thing standing in the way of a similar outcome for Jews in Israel is a modern military backed by sophisticated technology.
Smaller than Vancouver Island, Israel is the sole liberal democracy in the world’s most unstable and hostile region. On its northern border, Hezbollah dominates Lebanon with extensive weaponry, financial backing and assistance from the Islamic Republic of Iran. To Israel’s east, the Islamic State is brutally consolidating power along Jordan’s fragile borders with Iraq. To the south, Hamas wages war while jihadist groups operate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
As Canadians watch events unfold throughout this troubled region, it behooves us to connect the dots between these violent, Islamist political movements and what is transpiring between Israel and Hamas. Given the early but clear signs of radical Islamist ideology migrating to Europe and North America, it is increasingly imperative to grasp the bigger picture.