The effort by Israeli leaders and their American supporters to scuttle the nuclear agreement with Iran was not, as they often claimed, based on the fear that the pact did not provide enough safeguards against Iran’s producing a bomb. As the agreement’s opponents knew, Iran has only to show signs of violating the agreement to bring on immediate retaliation by the U.S. and Israel. The Iranians undoubtedly remember Israel’s attack on Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak in 1981.
Hostility to Iran on the part of Israel and the U.S. has in fact far less to do with its nuclear program than with its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that Israeli spin doctors and their American supporters have made virtually synonymous with “terrorism.” They worry that the pact will bring an easing of economic sanctions against Iran and thereby enable it to increase its support for the two resistance groups.
Neither Hezbollah nor Hamas is terrorist in the sense that it is motivated by ill-defined grievances and a desire to create havoc, such as Boko Haram. Hezbollah is a legitimate political party in Lebanon and holds several seats in Parliament. Hamas in 2006 took part in the West Bank’s last free election and won a sizable proportion of the votes cast. A majority of those elected to the Palestinian legislature were Hamas members.
Israel immediately nullified the election by rounding up and jailing some 33 of the newly elected Hamas legislators. Others fled to Gaza, where a rickety government was formed composed jointly of Fatah and Hamas members. An effort to oust Hamas orchestrated by the Bush administration failed when Hamas security forces fought back and ousted Fatah from Gaza. Since then Hamas has ruled Gaza under daunting circumstances but with no serious opposition.
Israel snubbed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah’s offer to discuss a long-term truce and in 2007 imposed a blockade on Gaza that for 8 years has imprisoned nearly 2 million Gazans behind border fences, unable to leave the territory. Israel’s restrictions on imports and exports have crippled the economy, and three Israeli land and air invasions have left Gaza’s infrastructure in ruins. Today two-thirds of the population lack sufficient food, electricity is sporadic, and 95 percent of the water is unsafe to drink, according to United Nations reports.
Both Hamas and Hezbollah are products of Israeli conquest and occupation. Hamas originated in the early 1980s as an Islamic-based organization impatient with the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s apparent impotence in forcing Israel to give up the West Bank and Gaza, which had captured in 1967. Hezbollah was created to end the 18-year long Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon that followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of that country.
By invading Lebanon, Israel violated a year-long truce between Israel and the PLO arranged by U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib that the Palestinians had scrupulously observed. Lebanon was the headquarters of the PLO, headed by Yasser Arafat, which had largely abandoned its violent beginnings and represented the united voice of the Palestinian people in the eyes of most of the world. Once opposed to Israel’s existence, the PLO was willing to accept a two-state solution, with the right of Palestinians to establish an independent state in the West Bank, or 22 percent of original Palestine.
According to Stanley Hoffmann, chairman of Harvard’s Center for European Studies, Israel’s invasion was aimed at destroying the PLO. “By destroying the PLO as a political force,” Hoffmann wrote in 1984, “The [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin government hoped to gain a free hand on the leaderless West Bank Palestinians…. In fact it hoped to destroy the PLO so completely that in the words of one of Israel’s senior diplomats, ‘they are dead people politically.’”
On June 6 Israeli troops swarmed across the Lebanese border as waves of jets struck Lebanese villages and towns, and PLO fighters fled. The army quickly advanced northward and laid siege to Beirut. For 9 weeks Israel subjected the city to a land, sea and air bombardment and a blockade that caused severe shortages of food and water. Former Undersecretary of State George Ball in his book,“Error and Betrayal in Lebanon,” gives 19,085 as the number of Lebanese people killed, and 30,302 wounded, most of them civilians.
By September the PLO agreed to evacuate Lebanon and move to North Africa, having received assurances that the families they left behind in Beirut would be safe. Instead, Israeli troops moved into Beirut and opened the gates of two large Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatilla, to Lebanese Phalangists, who in a single night of terror slaughtered more than a thousand women, children, and old men.
Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon for the next 18 years gave rise to Hezbollah, a Shi’ite movement dedicated to ousting Israel from Lebanon and preventing future Israeli invasions. Like Hamas, it is no more terrorist than the French and Italian partisans who resisted the German army during World War II, or, for that matter, the American colonists who fought to get rid of the British.
Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago demystified the terrorist label in an October 15, 200 oped-ed for the New York Times in which he wrote that the chief motivation for suicide attacks and similar violence is “the presence of foreign forces on territory the perpetrators prize.” Pape’s column was mainly addressed to the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, but as he also commented, “We see this pattern pretty much any time an outside armed force has tried to ‘pacify’ a region, from the West Bank to Kashmir to Sri Lanka.”
Resistance to Israel’s occupation is certain to continue in one form or another regardless of Iran’s support. Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State are already challenging Hamas in Gaza, and denouncing it as insufficiently militant. Peace activists in Israel and elsewhere point to the presence of such groups as evidence that Israel will never be permanently secure as long it denies freedom to the 3 million Palestinians on its borders. Hezbollah and Hamas are not the chief problem facing the Israelis. It is their insistence on denying the Palestinians their freedom and prolonging a historic injustice.