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A Plan for Gazan Civilians Is a Strategic Necessity for Israel

Smoke billows over the city of Khan Younis in Gaza during an IDF ground assault. Photo: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

In the weeks after October 7, it was not only President Biden who came to show solidarity but leaders of other Western powers, including Britain, France, and Germany, all of whom gave unwavering support to Israel and its right to defend itself. These leaders were aligned with their publics, with polling showing a broad swell of international sympathy.

Yet by December, the same polls showed that support was dropping sharply and domestic pressure was increasing on Western leaders to rein Israel in. As the human suffering in the Gaza Strip has grown — particularly the concentration of the population in Rafah and the acute food shortage in the north — so too has international pressure. Israel now faces a wall of opposition to its plans to attack Rafah, which in turn reduces its leverage in hostage talks.

While many Israelis find criticism difficult to understand following October 7, it is important to grasp how the war is seen from outside. By January, some 60% of Gaza’s housing units had been destroyed or damaged. An estimated 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are internally displaced. In addition, there are no electricity mains, no functioning schools, and scarce access to healthcare. Many medical facilities, of course, have been abused by Hamas for military purposes; and there is certainly good reason to be skeptical of the claims of some UN agencies, including UNRWA, and sections of the international press. Yet the destruction and resulting deprivation in the Gaza Strip are extensively documented, and there is a consensus about the scale and urgency of these issues among Israel’s strongest supporters, including the US and UK (who are themselves directly fighting the Houthis).

Significant destruction of civilian infrastructure was inevitable due to Hamas’ embedding itself and Israeli hostages within and beneath the civilian population. Israel has made significant efforts to move civilians away from the most intense areas of operation. The primary responsibility therefore lies with Hamas, which cares nothing whatever for Gazan civilians. There are also justified doubts around fatalities reported by Hamas-run authorities, and IDF claims for combatants killed suggest that the percentage of non-combatant fatalities may be no worse or even better than in urban warfare conducted by Western forces.

Nonetheless, the total count of more than 30,000 fatalities, widely cited internationally and not refuted by the IDF (though it has distinguished that many of those killed are Hamas members), has a significant impact on international opinion. Israel has not managed to avoid criticism, even from President Biden, that it is not being careful enough to minimize civilian deaths.

When it comes to humanitarian aid, the Israeli government says it does not restrict the quantities entering the Gaza Strip and blames UN agencies for lacking the capacity to deliver. No doubt there is justification for this claim. Nonetheless, State Department spokesmen have listed for journalists a number of ways in which they believe Israeli ministers are holding up aid. Even President Biden criticized the Israeli government for not doing its part. As he said in his State of the Union address: “Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip. Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”

Global dissatisfaction with Israel’s performance is coupled with a broad international consensus on the urgency and scale of the crisis. An interagency report published on March 18, based on a range of data sources, concluded: “Famine is imminent in the northern governorates and projected to occur anytime between mid March and May 2024.” Other parts of the territory are not far behind.

The crises of shelter and food are now affecting the Biden administration’s willingness to back a major military operation in Rafah, which most Israelis support and which many believe is necessary to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza.

In addition to Israel’s failure to adopt a convincing approach to humanitarian issues, and the public blame coming from its closest ally, the international media’s portrayal of events is no less significant in the struggle for legitimacy. Israeli media generally does not show the images, names, faces, or even bare numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties that international audiences are exposed to day in and day out.

The immediacy of the horrors will recede, but the images are recorded forever, and they will be used to rekindle memories week after week, year after year, in countless public forums: in the UN and international courts; in legal proceedings against Israeli leaders under universal jurisdiction; in NGO reports; in media analyses; in books, documentaries, plays, and films.

In short, the destruction of Gaza is now a permanent and global cultural as well as political item, no less than Hamas’ atrocities of October 7. Most prominent of all, Israel now stands in the dock of the ICJ as defendant in a genocide trial that will continue for years.

Israel stands to receive another blow at the ICJ, with the court likely to provide an advisory opinion that the occupation of “Palestinian Territories” is itself illegal. This potential ruling, combined with the genocide trial, risks giving immeasurable new impetus to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This includes grassroots pressure on Western governments that have traditionally been Israel’s most reliable supporters to carefully consider all aspects of their bilateral relations, including arms trade. It also risks escalating pressure on the private sector regarding investing in Israel, especially if economic involvements cannot be guaranteed to remain confined to “legal” Israel inside the Green Line. The impact on public opinion in many Arab, Islamic, and developing world countries is also significant.

A fast-shrinking circle of support, including in the US

Israel will retain some unstinting supporters in the US and Europe, but they will be more confined to the political right as this issue becomes increasingly partisan in many countries. This means the quality of Israel’s relations with Western states risks becoming ever more vulnerable to the political attitudes of the party in power and its most vocal activists.

Perhaps most significant of all are the dramatic social, cultural, and political changes in the US. American political polarization has exacerbated huge partisan and generational divides. A recent annual Gallup survey showed an unprecedented drop in 18-34 year olds’ favorable view of Israel, from 64% in 2023 to 38% in 2024. Those with a favorable view of the PA also fell, but only from 36% to 32%. These numbers are usually stable, and the drop indicates severe damage to Israel’s image.

Once, the center of gravity in the US was assumed to be more pro-Israel than in Europe, with a bipartisan consensus. Today there is a huge gap in attitudes between Republicans and Democrats. Many around Biden want him to be tougher on Israel, and fear his re-election is at stake.

Biden’s personal commitment to Israel has therefore been a crucial factor in US policy. He has not unequivocally opposed a Rafah operation, only conditioning it on a credible plan to protect the densely concentrated civilians. Yet unsatisfied by Israel’s position, the administration is considering putting conditions on the use of US weapons. Without regular weapons supplies, it is not clear that Israel can achieve its objectives, especially while involved in a two-front conflict with Hezbollah that could easily escalate.

Without doubt, a negative consequence of more aid entering the Gaza Strip is that some will go to Hamas. But this consideration is outweighed by the greater military and diplomatic costs associated with not ensuring the entry of sufficient aid. Toppling Hamas therefore depends on being more, not less, concerned with the humanitarian situation. It is overwhelmingly in Israel’s interests to help Biden help Gazan civilians.

For anyone who thought Israel can ultimately reduce its dependency on Washington, note that Russia is diving ever deeper into a partnership with Iran, and China appears to have embraced the opportunity to win support in the developing world by casting itself as an honest broker in contrast to “warmongering” Washington’s support for Israel. Antisemitism has reportedly surged in Chinese social media.

How Israel can recover

A better and more secure future for Israel, and indeed the Palestinians, depends on toppling the unspeakably brutal, sadistic, and vicious Hamas regime. Yet the humanitarian crisis is restricting the legitimacy Israel needs to pursue its immediate war aims, including moving into Rafah. In the longer term, the devastation wrought in Gaza stands to leave Israel with immense and lasting reputational damage.

Yet there is a way back if Israel takes it. Success depends on the continued support of President Biden. To help the president help Israel achieve its strategic objectives, Israel must take the initiative and act quickly, vigorously, and decisively to improve the humanitarian situation to the very best of its ability. Preventing acute hunger and illness from tipping into mass famine and disease should be treated by Israeli decision makers as not only an overwhelming moral imperative but an overwhelming and immediate strategic imperative. Doing everything possible to address the humanitarian situation should help to soften, if not totally extinguish, American opposition to an operation in Rafah.

Beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis, Israel must grasp the great opportunity offered by the Biden administration’s regional proposals. The interest of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, in contributing to the stabilization of the Israeli-Palestinian arena and the normalization of relations with Israel is an immense opportunity.

By accepting the US call for a diplomatic horizon including a Palestinian state (with all necessary prerequisites, including its demilitarization), and agreeing to a practical step-by-step approach in the civilian realm that does not compromise Israeli security, Israel will create the basis for a substantive discussion on post-Hamas civilian governance for Gaza that can include the Arab states whose cooperation Israel hopes to secure, and enable a long-term strategy to marginalize Palestinian extremists backed by Iran. Down the line, it will rekindle the hope for the immense economic, security and diplomatic dividends associated with normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia. No less importantly, Israel will arm itself with a powerful refutation of accusations of genocide or illegal occupation.

By moving proactively, rather than being dragged, Israel can better shape the process and garner much-needed international credit.

Israel should also move away from the notion, implied in the “day after” paper that emerged from the prime minister’s office, that de-radicalization comes before reconstruction. Clearly, the first order of business is toppling Hamas and ensuring security and public order. However, without a credible plan for civilian governance and reconstruction, there will be a vacuum in which Hamas’ ideology will continue to thrive.

By contrast, setting out with partners to forge a path to reconstruction creates at least a possibility of demonstrating that there is a better way. In this regard, Israel needs to foster the best conceivable alternative to Hamas. This could, for example, be an Arab-backed mechanism under the umbrella of the Palestinian Authority.

Right now, most Israelis cannot bear to hear, much less speak, the words “Palestinian state.” But if Israel is to dig itself out of the deep strategic hole in which it finds itself, this must change. Neither Biden nor his team are under any illusion that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is a realistic proposition in the short to medium term. But they do believe that if the Abraham Accords are to be expanded, there must be a credible diplomatic horizon that includes Palestinian statehood.

There may be little prospect of a Palestinian leadership being willing to seriously advance Palestinian statehood under conditions that even a center-left government could live with. Nonetheless, by aligning Israel’s vision of the future, and its policies on the ground, with an approach broadly acceptable to Western capitals and among moderate Arab states, Israel can shift the diplomatic pressure to the Palestinian side. Israel has always benefited when it has been seen as the side that wants peace and is ready to make reasonable compromises to achieve it, even if the other side lacks the will or ability.

Prof. Jonathan Rynhold is the head of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University and senior researcher at the BESA Center. Dr. Toby Greene is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University and researcher at the BESA Center. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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‘Looming Disaster’: Hamas Releases Video of Operatives Shooting at Israeli Community From West Bank

Palestinian fighters from the armed wing of Hamas take part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, near the border in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Hamas has begun releasing videos of its operatives opening fire from the West Bank into Israeli villages, raising fears the Palestinian terror group will eventually try to stage a significant attack in the territory.

On Wednesday, Hamas terrorists in the West Bank city of Tulkarm opened fire into the Israeli village of Bat Hefer, which is in Israel proper. They staged the attack from the top of a hill. This is not the first time it has occurred. Last month, terrorists in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — the armed wing of Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — fired into the Israeli community as well.

NEW: Hamas terrorists in the West Bank opened fire on houses in the Israeli town of Bat Hefer at 7am as children were preparing to go to school

— Eitan Fischberger (@EFischberger) May 29, 2024

Yoav Zitun, a military correspondent for Ynet News, reported that Hamas is paying people in the West Bank between 500 and 1000 shekels who take a video of themselves shooting into Israeli communities and distribute the footage.

Seth Frantzman, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, responded to the report on X/Twitter, writing it “reminds me of the Great Return March antics of Hamas that paved the way to Oct. 7.”

For the march, Hamas mobilized more than 40,000 people to try and breach the fence between Gaza and Israel to attack its citizens. Rioters lit fires, threw stones at the Israel Defense Forces, and attempted to plant a bomb on the fence and breach it. Hamas paid people between $200 and $500 if they were injured and $3,000 if they were killed.

Terrorist attacks from the West Bank against Israeli targets have been on an upswing. Last month, terrorists shot from within the West Bank into the Israeli kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa.

Beyond shooting attacks, a terrorist killed two Israeli soldiers in Nablus in a ramming attack this week.

The terror incidents in the West Bank began to increase more than a year ago, but they have continued to occur since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Frantzman called the situation a “looming disaster.”

“The rising attacks in the West Bank using the masses of stolen weapons will eventually become more sophisticated and can lead to an Oct. 7-type event because Israel has ignored security in the West Bank as it did at the other borders and allowed terror groups to exponentially grow over the last years,” he wrote.

The concern has been made more acute by the fact that the Palestinian Authority, which controls the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, is increasingly weak. In certain cities, such as Jenin, terrorist groups have effectively made the PA police obsolete and now have a significant ability to operate.

This is compounded by the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to take punitive measures against the PA, which could make it more likely to collapse and create a vacuum for terrorists to assert greater control.

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Jury Finds Donald Trump Guilty on All 34 Counts at Hush Money Trial

Former US President Donald Trump appears in Manhattan Criminal Court, May 30, 2024, in New York. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump became the first US president to be convicted of a crime on Thursday when a New York jury found him guilty of falsifying documents to cover up a payment to silence a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

After deliberations over two days, the 12-member jury announced it had found Trump guilty on all 34 counts he faced. Unanimity was required for any verdict.

Trump watched the jurors dispassionately as they were polled to confirm the guilty verdict.

Justice Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11, days before the July 15 start of the Republican National Convention expected to formally nominate Trump for president.

Merchan thanked the jurors for their service. “Nobody can make you do anything you don’t want to do. The choice is yours,” Merchan said.

The verdict plunges the United States into unexplored territory ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election, when Trump, the Republican candidate, will try to win the White House back from Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump, 77, has denied wrongdoing and was expected to appeal.

“This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who is corrupt,” Trump told reporters afterwards.

“The real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people,” Trump said, adding: “I am a very innocent man.”

He faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison, though others convicted of that crime often receive shorter sentences, fines, or probation. Incarceration would not prevent him from campaigning, or taking office if he were to win.

Trump will not be jailed ahead of sentencing.

Opinion polls show Trump and Biden, 81, locked in a tight race, and Reuters/Ipsos polling has found that a guilty verdict could cost Trump some support from independent and Republican voters.

A source familiar with the Trump campaign’s inner workings said the verdict was expected to prompt him to intensify deliberations on picking a woman as his vice presidential running mate.

Biden’s campaign said the verdict showed that no one was above the law, but noted that Trump still would be able to run for president.

“There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” the campaign said in a statement.

The jury notified the court they had reached a verdict at 4:20 pm (2020 GMT) and read out all 34 guilty counts shortly after 5 pm.

Trump‘s fellow Republicans quickly condemned the verdict. “Today is a shameful day in American history,” House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said in a prepared statement.

The jury found Trump guilty of falsifying business documents after sitting through a five-week trial that featured explicit testimony from porn star Stormy Daniels about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006 while he was married to his current wife Melania. Trump denies ever having sex with Daniels.

Trump‘s then-fixer Michael Cohen testified that Trump approved a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 election, when he faced multiple accusations of sexual misbehavior.

Cohen testified he handled the payment, and that Trump approved a plan to reimburse him through monthly payments disguised as legal work. Trump‘s lawyers hammered Cohen’s credibility, highlighting his criminal record and imprisonment and his history of lying.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche asked Merchan to throw out the guilty verdict, arguing that it was based on the unreliable testimony of Cohen. Merchan denied his request.

Trump‘s near-certain appeal of his historic conviction on criminal charges in New York is likely to focus on porn star Daniels’ salacious testimony about their alleged sexual encounter as well as the novel legal theory prosecutors used in the case, but he faces long odds, legal experts said.

Falsifying business documents is normally a misdemeanor in New York, but prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office elevated it to a felony on grounds that Trump was concealing an illegal campaign contribution.

Trump complained that he could not get a fair trial in his heavily Democratic hometown.

The case was widely regarded as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. Jurors heard testimony of sex and lies that have been public since 2018, although the charges themselves rested on ledger accounts and other records of Cohen’s reimbursement.

It was known as the “zombie case” because Bragg brought it back to life after his predecessor opted not to bring charges.

This case was also likely to be the only one to go to trial before the election, as the others are delayed by procedural challenges.

If elected, Trump could shut down the two federal cases that accuse him of illegally trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and mishandling classified documents after leaving office in 2021. He would not have the power to stop a separate election-subversion case taking place in Georgia.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases, and has portrayed his various legal troubles as an effort by Biden’s Democratic allies to hurt him politically.

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Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Welcomes Anti-Israel Campus Protesters to ‘Resistance Front’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s so-called “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, applauded the anti-Israel protesters who have thrown university campuses across the US into chaos over the past several weeks, declaring them part of a new “branch of the Resistance Front” against the Jewish state.

“Dear university students in the United States of America, this message is an expression of our empathy and solidarity with you,” Khamenei wrote in an open letter published on Thursday. “As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it.”

Rehashing antisemitic conspiracies of Jewish control, he derided “the global Zionist elite” for speaking against the campus demonstrations.

“The global Zionist elite — who owns most US and European media corporations or influences them through funding and bribery — has labeled this courageous, humane resistance movement as ‘terrorism,’” Khamenei wrote. “You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front and have begun an honorable struggle in the face of your government’s ruthless pressure — a government which openly supports the usurper and brutal Zionist regime.”

Khamenei also praised students in other countries who have launched anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, noting the leading role that faculty have played in fostering and supporting the unrest.

“Besides you students from dozens of American universities, there have also been uprisings in others countries among academics and the general public,” he wrote. “The support and solidarity of your professors is a significant and consequential development. This can offer some measure of comfort in the face of your government’s police brutality and the pressures it is exerting on you. I too am among those who empathize with you young people, and value your perseverance.”

Khamenei’s letter came amid an outpouring of praise for the anti-Zionist students by Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

“While we support the assassination of the infidel Zionists and the beheading of them, we also appreciate and value the movement of Western demonstrators and sit-in students from Western universities, who through their sit-ins and protests expressed their rejection of the genocide taking place in Gaza,” al-Qaeda leadership wrote in a recent communique

Hamas and Hezbollah, both backed by Iran, have also cheered the protests.

“Today’s students are the leaders of the future, and their suppression today means an expensive electoral bill that the Biden administration will pay sooner or later,” Hamas official Izzat Al-Risheq said in a statement last month.

Naim Qassem, the deputy head of Hezbollah, also praised the protesters during an interview with Al-Manar TV earlier this month.

“We appreciate and value this very much. Perhaps in the future, there will be cooperation among the youth of the world — in America, France, Britain, Germany, and all the activists,” he said. “The [campus protests] are important, especially because they will have an impact on US elections. They will have an impact on the American position.”

Earlier this month, when some universities suspended students who had occupied sections of campus and refused to leave unless school officials agreed to condemn and boycott Israel, the Iran-backed Houthi militia, a terrorist organization that has repeatedly violated freedom of the seas by attacking international shipping vessels passing through the Red Sea, offered to admit the disciplined students as transfers to Sanaa University, an institution it administers.

Some anti-Zionist student groups have reciprocated the admiration.

Last week, Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) endorsed Hamas, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace Islamic extremism and antisemitism.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has re-formed under multiple names since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, was central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The anti-Zionist student movement’s support for terrorism and anti-American ideologies has been expressed before.

Footage of the protests which erupted on college campuses at the end of spring semester showed demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas and calling for the destruction of Israel. In many cases, they lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas at Columbia University, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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