Okay, it seems I spoke too soon. Hamas is now back in the “Iranian-supported” camp according to this editorial in the New York Times, which identifies Hamas as both “backed by Iran” and pathologically “consumed with hatred for Israel.”
President Shimon Peres has also refocused on Iran, as shown by his response to a prompt by Piers Morgan of CNN. Morgan doesn’t beat around the bush and without displaying a modicum of impartiality asks: “If you believe Mr. President, that Iran is behind a lot of the Hamas terror activity, as you put it, then what action do you intend to take against Iran?”
Not that I guess so, I know that is the case. And we are not going to make a war with Iran but we are trying to prevent the shipping of long range missiles which Iran is sending to Hamas. And they are urge to Hamas to fire ….Iran is a problem, world problem. Not only from the point of view of building a nuclear danger, but also from the point of being a center of world terror. They finance, they train, they send arms, they urge, no responsibility, nor any moral consideration. It’s a world problem and you know it.
And what of the closure of the Hamas headquarters in Damascus, which according to many commentators supposedly created enormous strains with Iran and resulted in much less funding and material to Hamas than in the past? What of the recent visits by high profile non-Iranian regional leaders? Not much.
The Gaza problem, in the minds of the Netenyahu-Barak duo, is caused by Iran, according to Salam Masalha, writing in Haaretz: “[t]he current operation can be called “the little southern Iranian operation,” since it’s designed to paralyze Iran’s southern wing. The next operation will be “the little northern Iranian operation “: It will try to destroy Iran’s Lebanon wing.”
Israeli officials must be feeling like they’re losing their public relations war on Gaza. The meme of Hamas, the terrorist group, no longer seems sufficient. Hence “Hamas, the terrorist group supported by Iran” comes to the rescue.
Even the New York Times is noticing this problem and wants the “Arab leaders to speak the truth and stop ignoring the culpability of Hamas.” The unhappiness with the changed region and the difficulty it poses for the usual conceptualization of the disproportionate Israeli attacks on Gaza as self-defense and a fight against terrorism, is palpable. After all, it is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is calling Israel a “terrorist state” these days, but Prime Minister Recept Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
The reality is that even the re-attachment of Hamas to Iran will neither resolve Israel’s occupation problem nor its public relations predicament. Israel is deemed the aggressor and out of control in the region not because it is unable to tell and re-tell its anti-terrorism narrative loudly enough, but because it cannot convince most of the world that its reckless bombing of a civilian population is a fight against terrorism (and its presumed chief sponsor, Iran).
As Sherine Tadros points out in her discussion of why reporting on Gaza is hard: “Hamas is not Gaza.” The reason Israel, after a few days of bombing, invariably loses its ability to sell the Iranian-backed terrorism meme in the court of regional public opinion — although not to US policy-makers who are its chief concern — is because most people know that no society and its livelihood can be reduced to its government, no matter how bad that government is.
To be sure, the current Israeli government can take the honest route and call for the punishing of the entire society in the way Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, did when he said that “We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza… The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences.”
But this is not the route most Israeli leaders (excepting Interior Minister Eli Yishai who posited the goal of Pillar of Defense Operation as “sending Gaza back to the Middle Ages”) have taken. The route taken is to say that Israel had no choice but to respond disproportionately because of Hamas terrorism (now, again, supported by outside terrorists).
This is not a credible argument given the impact of Israeli actions — including the almost 6-year old embargo — on Gaza and not Hamas. And blaming or even militarily attacking Iran will not make Gaza go away.
– Farideh Farhi is an independent researcher and an affiliate graduate faculty member in political science and international relations at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.