There is only one victim in this case, and it is Israel

There is only one perpetrator, Hamas. It is a terrorist organisation.
It is obscene to argue that until the Palestinian question is solved, anybody has the right to use terrorism as an instrument of policy, argues Shekhar Gupta.

A fortnight into the geopolitical crisis sparked by Hamas’s incredibly brutal attacks, we can break it down in three dimensions.

The first, as you would expect, is the debate over how to fairly describe this, especially considering the controversy over the BBC and its Canadian sibling, the CBC, insisting on not calling Hamas terrorists.

We have seen two kinds of response across most of the world. One condemns these attacks as pure terrorism, and endorses Israel’s right to defend itself.

That’s been the view of all of Israel’s friends in the West and the Western alliance.

It is also the position taken by India, as stated in Prime Minister Narendra D Modi’s tweet.

The other was formulated with a ‘but’ somewhere. These attacks are awful, ‘but’ Israel has been treating the Palestinians so cruelly for so long.

There’s been much debate on this in our country as well.

There is an entire generation, or maybe two, of living Indians who view the Israel-Palestine situation with Cold War-era ideology and morality and believe in this ‘but’ school of non-condemnation.

Besides amounting to victim-blaming, this fails the test of morality too.

Think about this: India is reeling under the 26/11 attacks in 2008 and a bunch of countries, especially those we see as our friends, speak qualified words of sympathy like: ‘This is so terrible. But you know what, if only you had not left the Kashmir issue unresolved, if only you treated your Muslims better, and what about that mosque in Ayodhya?’

Imagine how hurt India and its then government would have been.

The US led the move away from this with the shock of 9/11. For 15 years since 2008, nobody has dared to lecture India on any root causes of terrorism.

We saw this in the procession of panicky Western leaders who came rushing to India in 2002 during Operation Parakram to head off what they saw as imminent war.

None mentioned Kashmir or any other outstanding issue.

What I remember most clearly is what Tony Blair, the UK prime minister at the time, said.

On cross-border terrorism, he said, ‘We stand four-square behind India.’

That must also be the first and fairest response to the Hamas atrocity on Israel.

There is only one victim in this case, and it is Israel.

There is only one perpetrator, Hamas. It is a terrorist organisation.

For those who might still have moral doubts, it’s been called an act of terror by the secretary-general of the holiest of the holy, the United Nations.

The Palestinian question remains, and will need to be resolved, as will Kashmir.

However, it is obscene to argue that until either is solved, anybody has the right to use terrorism as an instrument of policy.

We need to also understand that there isn’t one Palestinian view.

The essential difference is that the Palestine Liberation Organisation recognised Israel in 1988, whereas Hamas believes in destruction and death to all Jews, based on Islamic prophecies.

That Mr Netanyahu — armed with his own scriptures — has junked the two-State idea that first got Israel recognition from the Palestinians, is an obscenity.

It has weakened Israel morally and politically. It has also made life much tougher for Israel’s friends.

Soon enough, all of them will come back to remind him of his own nation’s sovereign commitments on Palestinian statehood.

India, through that ministry of external affairs press conference, has been the first of these friends.

The US might just be the last, but it will get there inevitably.

The second dimension takes us to Mr Netanyahu’s statement that every Hamas man is a dead man.

You can discount that typical ‘Bibi’ rhetorical flourish, but a lot of Hamas men, though not all, will be dead.

More importantly, Hamas will die, if only as a cohesive organisation.

The history of this generation shows that the worst ideas and ideologies never die. They metastasise, and spread.

Think al-Qaeda and IS, the most evil of our times. Both have ceased to exist as geographical or geopolitical entities.

The ideas, however, remain. Just about anybody sufficiently angry and vile can learn the tricks on the Internet, record a video message in an ‘Islamic State’ T-shirt, and blow themselves up in a crowded place.

Think the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka.

The Israeli response is angry. Recent history, however, tells us that big powers acting in anger can create much shock and awe, death and misery, and hit the emotional buttons of revenge among their populations, but never win.

Or the US wouldn’t have suffered total defeat in Afghanistan and a partial one in Iraq.

In its death, al-Qaeda metastasised into IS. In this unfolding war of dead-baby pictures, mine versus yours, the question of who’s the victim will be inevitably obfuscated.

The third dimension is rooted in the second biggest failure of Israel’s super-formidable military and intelligence system, and probably the worse of the two.

In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel was able to recover quickly and even the scores.

Subsequent inquiries showed that there was plenty of intelligence that a large-scale attack was being planned, but the Israeli commanders did not take these seriously.

There is no such mitigating factor yet with the October 7 tragedy.

Further, this humiliation came in the Israeli mainland.

All other fighting in Israel’s independent history as yet had taken place either in neighbours’ territories (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon), or in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza.

The October 7 death toll was the highest ever in the Israeli mainland in a day.

If the Egyptian breaching of the Bar Lev Line across the Suez Canal in 1973 broke the myth of the impregnability of Israeli military defences, the latest Hamas attacks have exposed the vulnerabilities of its most secure heartland.

A lightly armed terrorist rabble sliced through the most high-tech fence, with its sensors, cameras, alarms and surveillance personnel.

And the sharpest, most battle-ready army in the world took about 24 hours to arrive.

As in 1973, the Israelis will prevail finally. The ‘two eyes for an eye, the whole jaw for a tooth’ sentiment will also be met.

The cruellest, if sobering lesson will endure as it did after 1973.

The lesson that resulted in the Camp David Accords in 1978, and subsequently the peace agreement with Jordan in 1994.

Remember also that the Camp David Accords were signed by an Israeli leader of the hard Right like Mr Netanyahu today, and more popular.

Even a hardliner like Menachem Begin came to the conclusion that Israel’s future lay in peace with its neighbours and not in a permanent state of war.

That gave Israel and the Middle East a quarter century of peace.

Similarly, once the fury of the Hamas weekend ebbs — after much bloodletting in Gaza — some future Israeli leadership will likely come to the same realisation about Palestinian autonomy and the two-state solution to which all its friends, from the US to India, are committed.

It will now be the Saudis’ non-negotiable demand for a thaw with Israel.

All the economic, strategic and existential benefits that hang on this should persuade Israel’s leaders to accept the reality of a moderate, political, elected Palestinian state as a hedge against the rise of another Hamas.

Whether Mr Netanyahu will still be that leader, we don’t know.

Electoral fortunes in Israel are frightfully fickle.

But even a leader like Mr Netanyahu will be forced to dump his one-State solution fantasy.

Just as Camp David saw a return of Sinai to Egypt, there’s now an inevitability to returning to the Palestinians what’s theirs.

The two peoples can then live in relative peace. This solution won’t be found in scriptural prophecies, whether Hamas’s or Mr Netanyahu’s, but in post-war realpolitik.

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