Israel — as its friends and enemies never forget — is a “one-bomb country.” One nuclear weapon is all it would take to wipe out a nation whose territory is smaller than Djibouti, with a population not as large as that of Burundi. There are fewer than 8 million people in Israel, of which twenty percent are Arabs enjoying rights denied to Arabs (not to mention non-Arab minorities) elsewhere in the Middle East.
Israel is surrounded by Muslim-majority states with 60 times its population and 650 times its territory. Most of those states refuse to even recognize Israel. Some go further. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatens genocide: “Israel must be burned to the ground and made to disappear from the face of the Earth.”
The Hamas Charter is no less militant: “Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them).” Israel is a vital link in what the charter calls “the chain of jihad.” Hamas cleric Yunis Al-Astal elaborated in a 2008 sermon:
"Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesied by our Prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam — this capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe."
Both Israel’s friends and enemies are keenly aware that this is the backdrop against which Hamas launches its missiles. Many others choose to be oblivious. So you constantly hear journalists suggesting that the missiles that Hamas has been raining down on Israel from Gaza are merely a form of “resistance” to Israeli “occupation” — forgetting that Israelis gave up their claims to Gaza seven years ago, removing every farmer, every soldier and every grave.
Hamas does not seek a two-state solution or any other compromise. No one who embraces the ideology of jihadism can. Again from the Hamas Charter: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question, except through jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.” Hamas can accept the occasional truce; as I’m writing this, a cease-fire has gone into effect. During such breaks, Hamas does all it can to prepare for the next battle.
Hamas commanders understand that when they wage war — and that’s what missile attacks are — and when they commit war crimes — and that’s what missiles aimed at civilians are — repercussions will follow. Israel takes great pains to spare noncombatants, but Hamas routinely uses Palestinian women and children as human shields. That, too, is a war crime.
Recently, despite Israeli efforts to block deliveries of advanced weaponry (while simultaneously facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid), Hamas received an estimated 100 Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles — longer-range weapons that can threaten not just Israeli villages near Gaza but more than half of Israel’s population. Such missiles have been fired at Tel Aviv, while other missiles, M-75s to be precise (made with Iranian assistance), have struck just outside Jerusalem. Muslim clerics who routinely proclaim Jerusalem “Islam’s third holiest city” have not expressed outrage.
If Iran’s jihadist rulers acquire nuclear weapons, will they use them in support of Hamas? Might they transfer one or two directly to Hamas, or perhaps to Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy which has thousands of missiles in southern Lebanon aimed at Israel? Would Jerusalem, the holiest city for Jews and Christians, be a target? My answer to all these questions: Why not?
If Israel adopts a policy of “mutually assured destruction,” which was America’s policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union during the Cold War, will that be sufficient to deter Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah? I’ll let Iran’s former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani answer that: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel. But the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.”
At a time when many in the West insist on a false moral equivalence between Hamas’ attacks and Israel’s defense, U.S. President Barack Obama’s response to the conflict has been admirably clear-headed. Last Sunday in Bangkok, he said, “There’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel's right to defend itself. ... If we're serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel's territory."
Hamas is serious about wanting to resolve this situation — but not through a peace process. It prefers a process that leads to victory, which means Israel’s extermination or, failing that, what it calls “martyrdom.” Iran’s rulers share those aspirations. Both Israel’s friends and enemies get that. Many others choose to be oblivious.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.