World leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were quick to affirm Israel’s right to defend itself against the shocking and brutal attacks by Hamas. The Israeli flag was projected on to the Peace Tower in Ottawa as a sign of solidarity.
Affirmations and solidarity are easy enough at the moment, but they will become more difficult to sustain as Israel begins to uproot Hamas from the Gaza Strip, as it must, and recover the hostages seized by the terrorist organization, if it can. It will be tempting, as casualties inevitably mount, to lapse into the lazy notion that the two sides in the conflict need to agree to a ceasefire.
Canadians should be clear on a few things, however, particularly those who publicly celebrated Hamas’s crimes this weekend. There are not two sides, equally to blame. There are Israelis, kidnapped and murdered, and there is Hamas, the kidnappers and murderers. Equally, there is Hamas, the perpetrators of this weekend’s crimes, and Palestinians in Gaza, bystanders who will nevertheless be injured or killed by Israeli retaliation.
This is not a conflict; it is a justified war against terror, and against an organization that Canada officially deems to be a terrorist entity. And a ceasefire will have to come at a time of Israel’s choosing, once it believes the threat posed by Hamas has been eliminated.
Israel should seek to minimize civilian casualties in its attacks against Hamas in Gaza. Hamas sought to kill as many Jews as it could in its weekend attack. There is no moral equivalency between the two.
That is not to imply that Israel is beyond criticism. Certainly, there are ample grounds to criticize the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not least of which is its counterproductive stance toward the Palestinian Authority.
And the history of the Middle East did not begin on Saturday. Palestinians have a right to full self-government, and only the realization of that right, in a Palestinian state alongside Israel, will bring enduring peace to the region. If it was not obvious before this weekend, it surely is now: Hamas does not want peace; it simply aims to destroy Israel.
Destroying Hamas is not only a legitimate aim for Israel, but an act of self-preservation. Still, as it moves against Hamas, Israel is accountable for its military actions. Stamping out Hamas does not justify any and all actions. But the standard for that accountability cannot be unique and impossibly high. Israel has the right to defend itself, even if the exercise of that right results in collateral civilian casualties.
Israel should proceed with caution and restraint, not to appease its unappeasable critics, but to avoid strengthening its enemies. What do Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah want? Bloody scenes of street fighting, civilian deaths in Gaza by the hundreds as a means of turning international opinion against Israel.
Iran, especially, will benefit from such mayhem, beginning with the halt of any momentum of a diplomatic entente between Israel and Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia. Those talks held out the prospect of a major step forward in the normalization of the relationship between the Arab world and Israel.
In the aftermath of the Hamas attacks, that prospect seems to be disappearing for the foreseeable future. But history holds a different, more hopeful lesson.
Fifty years ago this month, the armies of Egypt and Syria attacked Israel at the start of Yom Kippur. The initial success of the Arab offensive shocked Israelis, who had assumed their military superiority was unassailable. The Israeli counteroffensive succeeded through skill and good fortune, but the Yom Kippur War underscored that military might alone would not protect Israel. Eventually, that realization led Israel into peace talks with Egypt, the Camp David accords and the 1979 peace treaty between the two countries.
A half-century later, the second Yom Kippur attack has also shattered Israelis’ assumptions, namely that they could wall themselves off from Hamas and live in safety. Already there is talk of a realignment in Israeli politics, with a more centrist coalition government. The exclusion of extremist parties from the governing coalition could eventually open the door for a return to a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia, and a broader settlement with the Palestinians.
But first, victory over Hamas must be won. Canada has, rightly, given its support to Israel at the start of its fight. We must stand by Israel through to the end.